Office Politics

In an office, Kevin and Karen are the bosses of 12 employees. Sam and Sara are in charge of getting lunch for everyone. All 14 people in the office vote on what to have for lunch, but Sam and Sara make the ultimate decision based on logistics and budgets and such. Sam and Sara are in charge of lunch because they’ve always been in charge and have more experience and no one else wants the hassle.

It’s funny though, Kevin and Karen and Sam and Sara all look forward to lunchtime, but the 10 others don’t always like what’s served. Those employees never really question why they don’t like their lunch, they just chalk it up to luck of the draw. They just hope that they’ll like the next lunch better. After all, when you consider availability, expenses, travel-time, and probably a bunch of other incidentals, things just seem to work out the way they do.

But is it merely luck that 4 of the 14 receive greater satisfaction from lunch? Does each vote really confer equal influence? All things being equal (such as cost and distance), which lunch selections are Sam and Sara likely to choose, but the ones they prefer. And besides their own preferences, they are likely to please the bosses that employ them. Beyond minor complaints, Sam and Sara lack incentive to please every other coworker.

In this scenario, no one has outright selfish intentions, the people involved just aren’t very thoughtful. Since they get what they want, and their bosses never complain, Sam and Sara never see a reason to alter their behavior. In fact, some of the other employees might think it’s fair that Sam and Sara get their choice, since they organize the lunches — and they wouldn’t begrudge their bosses since they own the place.

So is anything wrong in this office, is something not as it should be? Well, it appears that 10 of the employees believe their vote influences their lunch selection, when it actually doesn’t. But because they believe they have say, they rarely feel the need to complain. When they happen to receive a lunch they enjoy, they perceive it as evidence of their input. When they receive a lunch they don’t enjoy, they just figure things didn’t work out this time.

If the office got rid of voting altogether, and told Sam and Sara to decide on lunch, Sam and Sara would likely see complaints rise. “Hey Sam, why did you get this again? I hate it!” When Sam and Sara are mere representatives, and everyone believes they share in the decision-making process, everyone feels a sense of responsibility for the lunch selection. If the decision fell solely on Sam and Sara, then the blame would too.

In all likelihood, the faux-voting is helping to maintain a peaceful office. And since no one wants to sit around in meetings trying to devise and maintain a fairer system of lunch selection, it’s easier to leave things as they are. So behind the scenes, lunch is decided on by 4 people while the other 10 eat whatever’s handed to them, but because of the perceived empowerment from the voting system, they’re more accepting of unliked lunches.

An important aspect perhaps, is whether Kevin and Karen and Sam and Sara are considerate of their coworkers. If these 4 have the ability to recognize the needs of others and have the willingness to sacrifice on behalf of those affected by their decisions, then the lunch system would likely work fine enough for everyone. Whereas if the 4 succumb to favoritism or selfishness, then the satisfaction of lunches would likely be very high for some and very low for others.

Unfortunately though, if the 4 don’t look out for the interests of all, the other 10 can’t simply replace them, as they are the ones in charge of everything. And if some of the 10 happen to share the tastes of the 4, that portion wouldn’t have an interest in changing anything anyway. With only a fraction not enjoying the lunches, those few would likely blame themselves for not liking what’s served (unless selfishness or favoritism was overt).

If there’s a small minority of employees that openly complain, they’d likely be branded as troublemakers. “Everyone else is enjoying lunch, what’s wrong with you, can’t you just appreciate it?!” But when a certain level of dissatisfaction develops, some start evaluating the fairness of the system — what was previously left unexamined, now falls under scrutiny. Those on one side find the glaring flaws, while those on the other side, directly benefitting, perceive it as working perfectly fine.

In this dysfunctional scenario, a partisanship develops due to the inconsiderate behavior of those in positions of influence. The system itself can’t be changed since those in power perceive no reason to change it. Ultimately, an enhanced sensitivity to the plight of others is required by those in charge. Only when they understand the interconnected nature of office life, and appreciate the feelings of others, will they adjust their behavior to facilitate a satisfying experience for all.

It is in the interest of those in positions of influence to monitor the discontentment of those affected by their decisions. It is to everyone’s benefit when compassion, rather than pushback, determines the treatment of those lacking leverage. A selfish agenda is an undignified way to proceed through life, resulting in hardship for others, until eventually spoiling things for everyone. But selflessness, looking out for the welfare of all others, this is what lends dignity to life, this is leadership worth following.

TLDR; When assholes reign, everyone drowns in shit.


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