Everything from private relationship to public affairs effects the way an organization is run. While external environments impact the direction of the company, the internal environment delineates the business’ identity. Two defining factors are the social and political climate within a business.
Over the past few decades, companies have been changing the way they interact with their staff. Employer-employee relationships affect the overall business operations. For example, Starbucks now refers to its employees as “partners” of the company, and they’re eligible for benefits as well as discounted prices for purchasing stock. McDonald’s calls its employees “crew members” and Tim Hortons’ workers are known as “team members.” These titles were created by design. Some companies implement these designations to show appreciation to the staff, while for other businesses, it’s a reflection of the hierarchy within the workplace.
For most corporations, it has been a tradition to have a “ranking system” of employment. A typical top-down structure shows the board of directors as the ultimate decision-makers, with the chairman as the head. Below them are the chief officers (CEO, COO, CFO, etc.), who answer to the board regarding any decisions made within the company. Managers or vice presidents answer to their respective chiefs, while the employees answer to their managers. A worker in an entry-level position has a long way to go before reaching the corporate level atop the hierarchy.
While this system is occasionally looked at as a negative, it does have some benefits. For example, if an employee has more experience and positive qualities than their co-workers, a promotion rewards their talents and contributions. Ideally, it also motivates other employees to strive further.
The hierarchy system may be viewed skeptically because it can allow the power to be abused. A higher position usually comes with a more prominent voice in the company. In most businesses, the managers are involved in recruiting and hiring new employees, and in some cases are also responsible for submitting employee feedback to a superior. When personal issues get in the way of professionalism, that can create issues of a political nature within the business.
Politics can also exist among colleagues in similar positions, particularly when the social and political aspects of the workplace collide. The office environment is often competitive, with employees jockeying to move up the ladder. Problems occur when there are colleagues who strive for their goals at any cost – even at the expense of others. This results in backstabbing, gossip, and manipulation, the stuff of workplace TV dramas like Suits, comedies like The Office and popular films like The Devil Wears Prada.
Office gossip is unavoidable, especially in big companies. While some say it’s a form of socializing, the circulation of nasty, negative gossip can create divisions and problems among the employees. In turn, this can affect the productivity and workplace chemistry. The company can suffer negative effects if this sort of toxic gossip is not stopped. Many experts believe that gossip is a natural human tendency; work can sometimes be overwhelming or intense for employees, and gossip can be a way of venting and relieving stress. That said, employers should monitor this kind of activity in case it gets out of hand and creates serious conflicts.
Social Life in the Office
Many individuals try to keep their personal and professional lives separate, but it’s sometimes inevitable that the two will crossover. Office outings to bars or restaurants, or to activities like bowling or sporting events, are popular in many workplaces. This is often borne from a concern that people are working too much, and their work-life balance is being thrown off by long hours at the office.
Typical nine-to-five jobs provide more social space to the employees; however, Forbes has reported that millennials are slowly renouncing these kinds of jobs, with freelancing and self-employment on the rise. A survey of millennial employees found that 71% want their co-workers to be their second family. As a result of this sort of mentality, employees are looking to hire individuals who can relate socially to their existing staff. If businesses wish to keep younger hires content, they will have to change their operational norms to appeal to millennial employees.
Many start-up businesses are trying to dispose of the established hierarchical workplace concept, including a de-emphasizing of traditional titles. Formal dress codes are rare, and top-down corporate structures are being discarded by smaller, younger businesses in favour of a more team-oriented environment (each team has a team leader, the equivalent of a manager). More and more, employees are not required to just see each other at the office; they’re encouraged to plan meetings in cafes, bars, and other non-traditional spaces. Modern businesses are able to integrate socializing with work.
The Right Balance
The social and political environment of a company is important, though it can sometimes seem as if one conflicts with the other. Companies that are able to balance both will be able to sustain their employees’ happiness, thus increasing productivity and overall satisfaction. Google is likely the most well-known example: the Google campus famously has arcades, massage tables, bowling alleys, and several sports facilities, making it little wonder that the tech giant is consistently ranked as one of the top places to work in the world. Yes, Google has corporate officers and directors, but the company also emphasizes the welfare and happiness of its employees.
As individuals try to balance their work and social life, the companies employing them should also seek ways to efficiently manage the social and political environment within their office walls. These environments affect employee morale, which in turn will determine the company’s success.
Justin Tjoandi | Staff Writer