Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Office Politics for the Non-Political

Chapter 9: Paint Your Environment Part 17 (conclusion)

In the last post, I embedded a video in which Harvard Business Review authors Kent Lineback and Linda Hill champion the cause of using politics for good purposes. I know that politics is like kryptonite to many people, in part because politics can be so illogical, unethical, or just plain mean.  But there are ways to play politics without catching an ethical disease.

Politics is about building a network of people you can count on, people who work together for common cause and for mutual benefit.  Lineback and Hill argue that people who don’t play politics associate mainly with friends at work, and therefore have less access to information and allies. In fact, without allies you won’t be able to defend yourself (or your team) from decisions that may compromise your values.

Lineback and Hill wrote a series of great tips for building a network in their HBR article “Stop Avoiding Office Politics.”  Here are two that I particularly like:

  • “Work with others for mutual advantage, not just your own.”  I would add that mutual advantage also means there is something in the exchange for you too. Doing favors for someone without expecting anything in return at work is not a way to build a network, it is the way to become a doormat.
  • “Build ongoing, productive relationships with everyone you need to do your work, as well as those who need you, not just those you like.”  This means that you may need to work with scumbags, assholes, eggheads, or airheads that you normally would prefer to avoid. 

“Dealing with Office Politics” on gives an excellent overview of the how’s and why’s of office politics. I particularly like the advice for dealing with what I call the Foxes, “people out for themselves and not the common good.” Mindtools suggests that you “Get to know these people better and be courteous to them, but always be very careful what you say to them.”

One person I interviewed used this strategy to good effect. “My conversations with (The Fox) were always transactional – I never mentioned anything personal, because I was concerned it could be used against me.”

If you are like me, someone who isn’t a natural politician, beginning to engage may seem a bit daunting.  My suggestion: First try just one new thing. Little by little, you will start to acquire some chits that can help you shape your environment, and give you more choices.

In the last and final chapter, we’ll explore what life looks life after you’ve busted your corporate idol.

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The Harvard Business Review Tip For The Overworked

Build Your Community: Part 12

The The Harvard Business Review tip of the day: People who are overloaded by work should “create rituals—highly specific behaviors, done at precise times, that become automatic and no longer require conscious will or discipline. For example, go[ing] to bed at the same time every night [ensures that] you consistently get enough sleep.”

As a baseball fan, I’m all over rituals. This year during the SF Giants World Series run, I listened to the first two playoff games (losses) on the radio, and then I watched next three (wins) on tv.  It was a bummer, because I was afraid to turn the radio on for the rest of the playoffs, lest The Giants start losing again.  Unfortunate, because Jon Miller and the other local radio announcers are so much better than the various clowns broadcasting on tv.  But what could I do?  I didn’t want The Giants to lose on my account.

My silly-but-true example illustrates something important about human behavior: much of what we do is driven by emotion, not reason.  And while my turning on the tv was not a ritual per say, rituals serve the same function: emotional comfort from the sameness of an activity.

Rituals are one of the ways that corporate culture is perpetuated. A primary example is the quarterly company meeting, when all employees gather to hear senior management go through a scorecard of performance, talk about what is coming up, and try to inspire employees for the future.  Employees at dysfunctional companies sometimes refer to these as “cool aid sessions” while companies like Google and now Yahoo use weekly all hands meetings as a way to build a culture of transparency and trust among employees.  (For more check out this interview with Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations on

This tip from HBR is spot on, although I disagree with the overt suggestion to use rituals as a means to maintain a work-first mentality.

“Sebastian Tate,” who we met in Chapter 7 in this post, uses the ritual of the male-bonding camping trip to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

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Is There a Disadvantage To Always Cooperating At Work?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 5

Vijay is a “mench” – (a Yiddish word that means “a good person)” who was not supported for doing the right thing. Is Vijay’s story the exception or the rule?  In my opinion the exception, but common enough that most people can relate.

I came across a fascinating study by Dr. Craig Parks which indicated that selfless people at work may be disliked by their colleagues almost as much as the slackers[i]. Why would this be the case?  Research Fellow Paul Nunes explains the result on the Harvard Business Review blog as follows: people at work dislike people who deviate from “normal motivations.”[ii]

“One can’t offer a bonus for harder work, because money doesn’t seem to matter. Can’t punish with extra or unpleasant tasks because this person takes those on willingly for no apparent reasons. A bit of chaos ensues, with this person being considered complicated–or complicating–at best. I think employees most resent having to come up with new ways of influencing these workers because the traditional ones don’t work.”

The discussion on the HBR blog is fascinating, with strong resonance from several posters, who felt this finding “explain[s] perfectly” the resentment they feel from coworkers.  The mismatch in motivations comes from a mismatch in the underlying values, between an individual’s “personal principles” and the culture and values of the corporation.

I found another study that suggested that people who follow the Golden Rule at work may be at a disadvantage. Men who are less agreeable earn 18.3% more than men who are more agreeable, with disagreeable women earning 5.4% more than agreeable women.[iii]  Vijay’s story is certainly consistent with this finding – the less trustworthy person continued to earn a salary, while the person who was helpful was out of a job.

Next week: using fables to identify the trustworthy

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[i] The Desire to Expel Unselfish Members From the Group.  Craig D. Parks, Asako B. Stone. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Volume 99, Issue 2, August 2010, Pages 303-310

[ii] Quote from Paul Nunes, an Executive Research Fellow at the Accenture Institute for High Performance, commenting on the article Your Most Helpful Colleague (Don’t You Hate Him?) by Craig Parks cited October 25, 2011

[iii] Do Nice Guys and Gals Really Finish Last?  The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income.  Timothy Judge, Beth Livingston, Charlice Hurst.  Journal of Personal and Social Psychology In Press–JPSPInPress.pdf; October 24, 2011.  Note: agreeableness is a term in social psychology that refers to “trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and tender-mindedness.”