The one area where I’ve consistently failed during my entire career is office politics.
I’m so bad at it.
When I first started working, I could barely navigate the landscape of my HR department. I walked into a minefield of hormones, broken promises, and horizontal envy. I thought the way to make a name for myself was to stand out like an alpha. Unfortunately, I was five feet tall and not very impressive. I mostly just acted like a brat.
Once I understood the hierarchy of HR — and how I would always be at the bottom — I looked out at other departments. No matter the organization, my boss always had a political “thing” going on with other bosses. Not only did I have to manage up, but I also had to manage out.
Then I noticed how the executive leadership team and board members had their own gripes and grievances about next-level stuff that I didn’t understand. My HR bosses managed up, managed out, and then watched the competition unfold at a whole new level.
The best HR leaders tried to shield us from company gossip. Or they shared the gossip as a symbol of trust. The worst bosses gossiped about it to us, and we gossiped about it among ourselves. Gossip makes the day go faster.
Maybe there’s an HR department that isn’t mired in politics. Maybe there’s an HR department that doesn’t keep score and doesn’t know who is sleeping with whom. And maybe there are HR professionals who genuinely don’t care about office politics.
But I don’t know those people or those companies.
At some level, politics and drama are human. If you breathe air and drink water, you’re probably pissing someone off.
But in the worst companies with the crappiest morale, I suspect that politics and drama are the forces that keep us coming back to our dumb jobs. If we have a relationship with people, even on a basic level where we complain about them, we’re invested in coming to work every day.
So even when I was fumbling my way through the political scene at work, I was still coming to work and paying attention. Maybe, in that way, HR office politics weren’t such a bad thing.