Workplace politics occur consistently across the spectrum of private businesses, government departments, statutory bodies, academic institutions, welfare organisations and NGOs. While these smouldering, subtle conflicts affect all levels of employees, they tend to become much bigger, much more intense and much more damaging in the senior levels of the organisation.
Most workplace politics boil under the surface and only become overt when the pressure valve blows. The most common manifestation of employer politics exploding is when an employee or executive is forced to resign or is dismissed due to the clash of the parties concerned.
In such a case the employer can lose out due to negative publicity and due to ‘punishment’ from the CCMA. But negative consequences of ‘political agendas’ and unresolved conflicts can go even further than this. This is because such conflicts tend to permeate throughout the organisation with people taking sides and forming factions. The fallout in terms of damaged employee relations, impaired teamwork, poor performance and lost productivity can cripple an organisation. It is therefore crucial that the employer:
- identifies workplace politics early
- accepts that it needs to be dealt with urgently, and
- assigns its best industrial relations expert to developing and implementing a strategy for resolving the conflict in an orderly, fair, pragmatic and legal way.
The higher up the organisation ladder an executive goes, the more likely that, where conflicts exist, the employer will try to resolve the matter quietly by putting pressure on the executive to resign. Executives and other employees often accept small or mediocre ‘settlement packages’ to avoid the discomfort of a dismissal.
However, more recently, executives have begun to dig their heels in and are more reluctant to accept packages because jobs are harder to find. This means that employees are often negotiating bigger settlement packages, especially if they have the backing of an experienced labour law negotiator.
Employers are warned that the amount of the settlement tends to increase in proportion to the extent to which the employer has breached the law. For example, we recently negotiated on behalf of an executive, a settlement well in excess of one year’s remuneration. And this is becoming a more and more common occurrence.
On the other hand, we have also been able to help employers avoid having to pay such crippling settlements by intervening before the pawpaw hits the fan. That is, where we have been called on in time we have been able to avoid rash action by the employer which then places the employer in a stronger negotiating position.
Workplace politics are here to stay but employers and employees can, by acting timeously and sensibly, prevent them from causing irreparable harm.