Like it or not, no office is free from politics.
Wherever we are placed, there always seems to be an inevitable competition for recognition, pay raises and job security. Here are a few recent conversations I’ve had:
- “I feel like I’m constantly on guard. I can’t trust anyone. Someone could just screenshot my emails or texts and use them out of context. I feel powerless in the office… like anytime I can get swallowed up you know?”
- My colleagues are nice but sometimes I don’t know what they actually say about me behind my back. Sometimes I’m caught off guard and I find myself always needing to defend myself at work. It’s so tiring.”
What is office politics? It’s about gaining power and influence to further one’s interests, at the expense of others.
Many of us have been told before stepping into the workplace that playing politics well is essential for survival in the modern workplace. And we often hear of talented employees not receiving the recognition they deserve because of their inability to navigate the office’s complex political landscape.
I’ve been involved in quite a bit of office drama myself: Gossip and conflict were rampant and alliances were made. I had to choose a side. What could I do? It’s so easy to be overwhelmed and succumb to gossip, lying and manipulation. And then we say that using these “tools” to get ahead in the game is inevitable.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1)
What causes office politics and conflicts is simply a focus on self-interest at the expense of others.
As Christians, we are not trapped or helpless. Meekness does not mean passiveness.
Some Christians ask if there is a better way to go about “playing the game”? But engaging in office politics means becoming more manipulative, deceptive and vicious. It’s everything Christ isn’t, so it’s incompatible with Christian teachings and values.
So they take a back seat and let their politically adept colleagues get ahead, suffering in silence and being made scapegoats for wrongdoings that they didn’t commit. Ever heard one of these before?
- “You were cc-ed in the email, right?”
- “I thought you should know this?”
- “I don’t remember ever giving you the instructions to go ahead or do so.”
Politics within the workplace may be inevitable. But as Christians, we are not trapped or helpless. Our meekness does not mean passiveness. Our humility and submission to authority doesn’t always mean silence when confronted with complex and difficult situations.
But is it possible to be politically savvy in the office without compromising our Christian values?
Scripture does not explicitly speak on dealing with office politics. However, there are biblical examples of believers who wisely wielded their influence to fulfil God’s purposes. Nehemiah is one such person. He navigated past political moves and the opposition of Persian officials as he rebuilt the wall in Jerusalem.
To start with, Nehemiah prayed and asked God to grant him favour with King Artaxerxes (Nehemiah 1:5). God answered Nehemiah’s prayer as it was Artaxerxes who noticed Nehemiah’s sadness (2:2-3).
That gave Nehemiah the opportunity to ask Artaxerxes to authorise the rebuilding by issuing letters to the necessary officials (2:7-8). Nehemiah made appropriate responses to the ridicules of his opponents (2:19-20; 4:1-5) and demonstrated the necessary readiness to defend his people (4:6-15).
Nehemiah kept morale high and won the people’s support (5:1-13), refusing to burden them with more than they could bear (5:14-19). He did not fall into his enemies’ traps to derail or kill him (6:3,8,11) and resisted intimidation (Nehemiah 6:5-19). That’s the picture of someone who wisely and blamelessly wielded influence to get God’s things done!
So what about me?
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus called for us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. He assures us there will be trouble in this broken world, but also tells us to take heart because He has overcome the world.
Jesus does not intend for us to be gullible pawns in the office. He wants us to be wise like serpents, working with shrewdness. And He calls us to be harmless or innocent as doves – pure and blameless. As disciples of Jesus, we must be prepared to be disadvantaged if that is the cost of not following the norms and strategies of this fallen world. We are in the world but not of the world.
Everything we do in the workplace must go towards serving and glorifying Him.
Jesus lived a countercultural life while on earth, but His seemingly controversial ways never once contradicted His holiness, goodness and kindness. He showed us a new way to live by following and obeying God the Father in total devotion and faith.
As God’s ways are higher than our ways, know that though His purposes for you in your workplace may not be what you expect, in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
So though people may engage in self-serving politics to gain an advantage and privileges at the expense of others, we must not follow suit. If we are to be effective witnesses for Christ in the marketplace, we cannot focus on furthering our personal interests.
Instead, everything we do in the workplace must go towards serving and glorifying Him. So we have to die to ourselves if we are to place the interests of others above our own (Philippians 2:3-4).
And that includes people we don’t like or are difficult to work with!
We are called to be the salt and light of the world, so this includes our workplace. Office politics lead to consequences like injustice, hostilities, discrimination, hurts, stress and burnout. So, as salt has healing properties, we can bring healing to our workplace and help soothe and heal wounds caused by office politics.
Nehemiah was placed at the right position at the right time to fulfil God’s purpose. Likewise today He places us in positions so we can be agents of kingdom transformation. As we do these things, it is important that we hear God accurately and obey His will. In changing the culture of our workplaces, we must remain rooted by the grace, love and mercy of God.
In Matthew 5:44, it says that we ought to love our enemies and pray for them. So before we seek to bring change to the office, we must be brutally honest with ourselves and before God to ask if we are acting to serve our self-interests or God’s purposes? We must have a clear conscience before God and man (Acts 24:16).
May we be workers who do all things – whether in word or deed – to the glory of God. Then the rest will be in God’s hands, and we can take heart and rest in Him.
The author’s name has been changed for confidentiality.
- What is your office culture like?
- Have you ever dealt with office politics? How was that like?
- How can you spur fellow believers to change your workplace culture?