Power and Politics at the Office

I read in Harvard Business Review that power is gained by those willing to circumvent office rules to get what they want. I bet you can name someone in your office (just off the top of your head!) who is very, very good at this.

The skill is in knowing just how far to push it and when to reel it in. According to the research, this push and pull method works well. A skilled ladder climber knows how to keep it under the bar - delivering success (or the appearance of success) that seems related to their disregard for the people and procedures described in the employee manual. According to research, capriciousness actually creates power.

The problem according to the Jeffrey Pfeffer is that such methods are the source of the unhappiness of the rule-following employees. You know, the employees who show up on time.The employees that prepare thoughtful work in anticipation of client meetings. The employee you can count on. The employee everyone enjoys talking to. The one that works with diligence, patience, and an even-tempered approach.

You've probably seen it happen at your work. The questionably accomplished ladder-climber creates office havoc but gets promoted and earns more and more and more while the diligent, thoughtful employee achieves cost-of-living salary increases and more moderate promotions over a long period of time. Motivation declines. Learning and innovation suffers. It's wrong. It also happens all the time.

The conclusion of this very interesting article was that this conflict -- present in almost every work environment -- is a significant source of career unhappiness. And it is almost never addressed in any way, shape, or form. Not by management and not by the field of organizational behavior research.

Jeffrey Pfeffer's article, Power, Capriciousness, and Consequences was published in the April, 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review. Read the full text here and visit Pfeffer's website for more information on his research.

Now tell me about the climbers in your office...


Questions to Ask at a Job Interview

A list of questions you should ask during your job interview.

Questions to Ask at a Job Interview.


I came across this list of questions on Pinterest - the current source of everything worth knowing. The full article was written by Erika Brandt, Marketing and Communications Manager for AgCareers.com.

What struck me about the list was how dramatically different my life might be if I had asked even a few of them when I was interviewed for some of the jobs I've had.

An unhappy work environment matters. It can squash employees' initiative and derail the mission away from long term organizational goals in favor of placating supervisors from moment-to-moment.

Performance measurement is another sticky subject. What if they told you performance would be measured not by the list of tasks in the job description but by your ability to navigate someone's mood swings? Or that you'd be required to fill out a twenty page performance review sheet each year, that your review would always be three months late, and that your supervisor spends less than ten minutes reviewing your prepared documents beforehand?

I'm not naive enough to believe that an interviewer would give away some of the more complicated (and unhappy) nuances of the corporate culture, but looking back I'd rather like to see how interviewers reacted when asked to describe it.

Looking back, I think body language is one of the most telling (and overlooked) clues to corporate culture. I remember visiting an office over the course of several interviews and noticed that no one was talking or smiling. The HR assistant was visibly unhappy and unpleasant to work with over the course of the two month interview process. Of course I took the job. And of course it was just the tip of the misery iceberg.

During an interview at another company I noticed that the office environment was complete chaos. The interviewers were unprepared and seemed to just ask questions that came into mind instead of probing for specific skills and responses. Employees randomly wandered around interrupting one another and our interview, which was happening in the middle of a busy room. One person scheduled to be part of the interview process was unable to leave her desk because no one else would answer the phones.Of course I took the job. And of course the crazy I observed in that brief time in the office was only the tip of the chaos iceberg.

I love this list of questions and I hope you'll ask them at your next interview. I would also like to suggest that you carefully observe the office on the days you visit. Consider that what you see is the office on their "best behavior." And decide whether or not you can live with that behavior pushed all the way to the far edge. It's difficult to do when you need a job, but saying "no" to a miserable work environment can be the difference between a good life and, well...


Smell and Motivation

Chocolate has been shown to influence browsing and purchasing decisions of bookstore patrons. Marketing teams use scent to direct behaviors and decisions of shoppers.


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