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GUEST COMMENT: The only way to succeed in finance is by playing nasty office politics

If there is ever an important piece of advice that university lecturers and textbooks fail to impart to students entering the workforce, it is the fundamentals of office politics. It’s the, “who you know, not what you know,” ticket that guarantees movement up the corporate ladder.

I’ve watched in amusement as co-workers, managers, and MDs strategise to get themselves promotions and bigger bonuses. The best of them make office politics look like an art form.

My disappearing manager

I once had a manager who disappeared from his desk at 12pm sharp every Friday and would stumble back to the office every few hours smelling of cigarettes and alcohol. He used these bar-hopping benders as bonding time with those higher up the hierarchy.

Another co-worker started off as an analyst. She lacked experience, but had a killer personality, was super talented at banking and invited us to the wildest parties. She knew exactly how to win over everyone in the office. Two years into her job, she set a precedent by skipping one management level and was catapulted up to become associate director.

Gang rivalries

Perhaps the most memorable display of politics I’ve witnessed was when my recent manager was looked over for a position she had patiently waited ten years for. The job was taken by an outsider after she returned from holiday.

In response to what felt like a scathing slap in the face, she made her new boss’ life miserable by withholding information, refusing to work in unison, wearing the passive-aggressive front on a daily basis, and ultimately garnered the sympathy and backing of the staff. Refusing to be bullied, the new hire mobilised new recruits and slowly started to take power. It was a sad case of office gang rivalry.

My takeaway

My observations and experience are drawn from the highly competitive world of financial services. Here, it seems employees will often do whatever it takes to get more money, more power and more recognition.

It might seem best to get on with your work and stay out of it. But, if you have been overlooked for a promotion because you took the moral high ground and didn’t play politics, you may feel justifiably aggrieved. Unfortunately, playing politics is necessary in this industry.

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Comments (14)

Comments
  1. What a boring, unoriginal article. Office politics was forever thus, not just in finance. Proves the point, though, that some of the least original minds work there, q.e.d.

  2. Very true but I disagree with the conclusion. Hate the player seems more right to me. It’s akin to saying don’t hate the murderer, hate the act of murder.

  3. I have been in this situation (described above ) for over a year now and trust me that it sucks!

  4. What a good, factual article,thank you I agree. If its any solace, they all fall sooner rather than later. Whats with the pseudo intellectual comments though?

  5. I couldn’t agree with you anymore. I have seen it in all my previous jobs – exactly why I was kicked out. I suppose they are not a fit for me, but rather than I to them. Hence why I have decided to go into doctoral study and I now have a home job – so I don’t have to meet, greet and work with nasty co-workers

  6. Office politics been there, been a victim of it and its not the best place to be if you don’t know how to play it and if you stand your ground against the bullish behaviour you are then seen to be aggressive and I think the worst part is that the people who are there to act as your managers look after themselves and their own interests. They forget that being in management includes a responsibility to people who work for them and they have a duty of care to the whole members of their team and not those they have a personal interest in. Politics damage people and the damage inflicted on people affects others physically, mentally and also makes them feel insecure about their abilities and all because someone’s trying to take home more money? And often these people who play the politics well have no real talent!!!!!! I think the people in power need to be made more accountable and there has to be some sort of accountability to ensure people are not abusing the position they have and unduly putting dull heads to positions of power and authority.

  7. Very true, more and more I see politics prevail over hard work. I have had several experiences of people solely focusing on politics and zero delivery (brown nose), and yet the outcome is that these people get promoted and get the big bonuses. I however still believe that the end goal is to achieve it without that. Beware of Swiss “westernised” companies, I have seen mates from London being kicked out in an abusive way just because of not playing the game and left with nothing in the middle of Switzerland… Not pretty…

  8. Probably the most useful article- advice on eFC the last 3yrs.

  9. Mike. Please elaborate. Where in swiss, german or french part? there is politics in all companies i have been working for in all countries. For me the worse cases were in one financial firm in London were the most qualified people “had to” leave because they were threatening the knowledge base/”cushion” of the floor manager. Who appointed the most junior guys as team leaders. Shamelessly.

    antiMachiavelli Reply
     
  10. I always thought that women understood one another, especially how hard it is for women to get to the top here in the City. But to my astonishment, women do not support one another, especailly if some have baggage and ohers don’t.

    when joining a new team, DO NOT tell them about your self, watch and observe.

    It’s all about a pecking order and control. If you don’t fit in, you are out. But then again there is karma……… little comfort, i know.

    Mother Theresa Reply
     
  11. “Probably the most useful article- advice on eFC the last 3yrs.”

    There is no advice in this article. Only stating the obvious I’m tempted to say.

    Politics are not confined to the financial sector, or office environments for that matter. You play politics even with your friends and and family to a certain extent. It is a just one of the many forms of human attempts at maximizing their (pereceived) utility function.

    I wonder where you have been for the first 20 odd years of your life to be surprised at finding this out once you join an IB…

    And, yes, you can’t do much about it. And, again yes, if you don’t know how to play you LOSE. In the same way that people will walk over you at peak time in the underground if you are too slow or soft.

    These are the rules. If you don’t like to play, stay home.

  12. @Mother Theresa

    Why are you advocating women helping each other as a desirable goal?

    Wouldn’t that skew the playing field, favoring of a subset? Where is your karma-invoking spirit gone in making that statement?

  13. @AQD
    maximized utility is not the only driving force that motivates and influences people’ sdecision. Or else people would kill their competitors. Some things called morality, values- perception of good and evil, and paramount to that, perception of one self in the light of one’s actions can be decisive.
    You should look at the definition of psychopath in a medical textbook. It fits well with your description of humans. There are several ways to the top, being a total and ruthless boot licker is not the only way, albeit one of them.

  14. Thanks for that very original and useful article. 2+2=4. Maff hard

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