Office politics. Who needs it? Certainly not contractors. By striking out on your own and choosing the work you want to do, you’re surely above the fray now. That might be the theory but it’s not always the practice. According to the results of a survey of 1,000 contractors reported in Computer Weekly. 62% say that not wishing to be exposed to office politics was a major reason behind their decision to leave the relative financial safety and comfort of full-time employment.

In this article, we look at how new and experienced contractors manage office politics among the “permies” they’re working with. Better still, how a contractor’s natural leadership and communication abilities can make advocates and supporters out of the people. People who, at first, may view you with suspicion. But who, in the end, will recommend to their senior managers that they should get you back.


The effects of office politics on staff

In the CIPD’s Employee Outlook Survey, office politics ranked third behind “unnecessary procedures and rules” and “inadequate resources” in what stops staff from being productive (source: City AM). Office politics cause 9% of work-related stress, according to PerkBox. An Adecco survey revealed that one third of UK staff blame office politics for causing them to feel “dread” about going into work (source: OnRec).

A survey of 1,000 employees aged between 16 and 25 for the Co-op discovered that just over half of young employees did not know about office politics before they entered the workplace, often leading to isolation (source: Business Reporter).

Despite the freedom we have as contractors, we’re really not immune from the effects of office politics. That said, unlike our full-time employed colleagues who we work with on a contract who don’t feel confident enough to take on a life of working for themselves. The impact of office politics on our emotions is much less. Because we’re just not attached to the place in the same way.

However much that may be the case. Particularly on longer contracts where we may be subject to repeated exposure to the same members of staff. Contractors still have to navigate our way through the less attractive side of office and work life.

A great article on Speller International details strategies they recommend their SAP contractors can use to manage workplace politics. The author comments that “(y)ou may have seen first-hand the workplace rumour-mill churning, or irrational outbursts. However working as a SAP contractor does not mean you’re immune to the political stuff.” Isn’t that the case? So what should we as contractors do about it?


“Bottom of the ladder”

Charlie Knight of Resources Vine believes that it’s the “superhuman” skills in negotiation and conflict management which helps contractors cope with the stresses and strains entailed in starting at new workplaces far more often than the average employee journeyman or woman. Much of the initial suspicion you may be on the other end of from your temporary colleagues is because “you are the unknown quantity and a danger to someone else’s job”. You’re in the crosshairs of the loud alpha male and the people-watching accountant who, to all appearances, is quiet and reserved.


Enmeshing yourself

It’s time to win some hearts and minds. You know you’re only here for a short time but you want to enjoy it. The people you work with will be more prone to give their management negative feedback about you than positive. Until they know for certain that you don’t pose a threat to their position in your client’s hierarchy.

The Michael Page team believe that you need to develop your network within the company. Understand the people around you and their motivations, and manage your own behaviour (without ever resorting to gossiping). You need to learn how to negotiate with these total strangers and simultaneously be part of the culture of the business but above it at the same time.


Making yourself invaluable to your full-time colleagues

While your primary responsibilities are to complete the contract you’ve agreed with your client. You also recognise the need to leave such a good impression with the person who selects the contractors within the client’s business so that you’ll be asked back. Hopefully on even better terms next time.

Remembering that these people who are your temporary colleagues will be talking to management about the project, your role in it, and their role in it, you can position yourself for the next big job at the client’s by allowing some of the glory to rub on the “permies” around you. If you make them look good, they’re going to want you to do that a bit more.

Going back to the Speller International article. The best thing you can do is to “focus on your job” and “ignore rumours (and not) get involved in these issues”. Be friendly and courteous to your full-time colleagues. Demonstrate that you can lead these people in the required direction to get the job done.  Be generous with your time and your knowledge. “Just remember not to align yourself too closely to a certain group”, the article wisely reminds us because, “(t)his will help you avoid being the subject of office politics.”


And this is why contractors are in such demand…

Employees compete for recognition and reward. Contractors are business people who, as so correctly put by the QDOS Contractor team, have “the necessary personality traits needed to run your own business. Especially one as insecure as a contracting business, (meaning) that most are hardy, independent people.”

Contractors are there to get the job done properly, in time and to budget. During the brief time we may spend at a client’s, we’re part of something but we’re also separate from it. A team of one alongside a team of many, with a unique perspective and skillset that is greatly valued.