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08 Oct 2015

Political Skill, The Key to Thriving in the Workplace?

The age of the linear career is over. A fact that has forced companies to focus on creating a favorable social environment to retain employees. As organizations continue to grow in size and complexity, thriving in the workplace is a continuous challenge for both employees and their employers.

This article by Alexandra Gerbasi is the subject of the 18th  GEM LAB Executive Summaries.

From the article

Thriving in Central Network Positions : The Role of Political Skills
Journal of Management - DOI : 10.1177/0149206315571154
Kristin L. Cullen, Alexandra Gerbasi, Donna Chrobot-Mason, 2015

Previous research highlights that a positive social environment is essential for employees to thrive. As recent theory suggests that thriving – or the feeling of vitality and the experience of learning in the workplace – is greatly influenced by the social environment, the authors of this latest study have focused on developing research around a key aspect of the social environment: the position of an individual in the communication network.

The workplace as a political arena

The authors studied the impact of communication demands on employees with a central position in their network. While many employees face numerous demands from their network, not all thrive to the same extent under these conditions. The authors posited that political skill could be an important individual difference that helps certain employees thrive.

To better understand this question, a social network analysis survey was carried out with 156 participants from the global HR division of a large multinational corporation. To determine the impact on workplace thriving, the authors examined the influence of political skill on three factors: communication centrality, role overload and role ambiguity.

The study confirmed that employees who play a central role in their companies' communication network are all the more at risk of being overwhelmed and confused by their job. However, the study results also highlighted that politically skilled individuals are able to prioritize and strategically respond to information requests, giving them the freedom to thrive.

Political training for key players

The practical implications of the authors' findings suggest that two solutions may help mitigate the risks associated with being a central player in a communication network : a) appoint individuals with high political skills, or b) provide training in political skills for individuals already working in key positions. However, the authors note the fact that political training is best gained through experience and therefore requires longer periods of time.

Companies also have the possibility to act on an organizational level by altering jobs to minimize or remove certain communication interactions, which will help employees manage network demands. This can be all the more important as the authors highlight that while political skill mitigates the direct relationship between role ambiguity and communication centrality, this factor does not solve the risk of overload from excessive communication demands. In other words, politically skilled employees may be better at deciding which requests to answer, but this will not save them if they are overwhelmed with demands.

Key Points

  • Employees with a central position in their communication network risk being overwhelmed and confused by the number of requests from colleagues
  • Political skill training for central players may help mitigate the risks associated with constant demands from their network.
Mara Saviotti