Between love and war: the effects of affective commitment in organizational politics and organizational performance.

Author:Ramirez Solis, Edgar Rogelio


We understand politics as the accumulation and the exercise of power in order to reconcile different interests; that is why we believe that a company, no matter its size, is involved in politics every day (Ramirez, Banos and Orozco, 2014). Organizational politics is a fundamental aspect of organizational life and relates to power, authority and influence. Power is defined as an attempt to influence the behavior of another actor and the ability to mobilize resources on behalf of a goal or strategy (Tushman, 1977; Pfeffer, 1981; and Cobb, 1984).However, there were no significant empirical studies about organizational politics before the 1980s that had practical implications (Gandz and Murray, 1980).

In this work we show that an individual's perceptions of politics are more important than the actual presence of organizational politics. This is because individuals respond to what they perceive and not necessarily to what is objectively real (Weick, 1979; and Ferris et al, 1994). Analyzing perceived politics is useful for a more comprehensive understanding of the work environment. An individual in a political setting may have a belief that hard work will not be consistently rewarded; as organizations with higher levels of politics are not concerned much with the personal needs of subordinates. Employees' attitudes toward their work, organizational commitment for example, also seem to be related to the perceived presence of politics (Cropanzano et al, 1997). Sometimes lower perceptions of politics result in higher employee satisfaction, and consistent feedback environments are associated with lower perceptions of organizational politics (Rosen et al, 2006). Political behavior may be used to predict important work outcomes (Cohen and Vigoda, 1999), aspolitical involvement increases job satisfaction, organizational commitment and participation in decision making. The negative relationship between political participation and performance shows that strictly political involvement seems to have negative consequences for behavior and attitudes at work. It is possible that political behavior has different effects in different cultures; as we will demonstrate in this paper, the effects of organizational politics are not necessarily negative, at least in Mexico.

Some performance variables are related to perceptions of organizational politics, but differ substantially across sectors and are higher in the public than in the private sector (Bodla and Danish, 2008). The behavior of people at work is at least as important as their feelings (Randall et al, 1999). Various characteristics of the organization and the job are associated with perceived politics, and politics, in turn, predicts various outcomes. People don't react to politics in the same way across different cultures. Higher-status individuals are in a better position to shape and benefit from political decision-making, meaning that politics has a less deleterious impact onattitudes among high-status individuals. Individuals who perceive their organizational environment to be highly political but are reluctant to leave the organization, engage in political behavior as a mechanism of control through which their situation can be made more bearable. On the other hand, employees who choose to stay with the organization although they are dissatisfied might engage in lesser political behavior, such as absenteeism, as responses to a highly political environment (Harrell-Cook et al, 1999).

A number of studies have found perceived politics to be indicators of various organizational outcomes, including psychological states such as job stress and burnout, and employee attitudes such as job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Job ambiguity, scarcity of resources and trust climate are significant predictors of perceptions of organizational politics. These perceptions,in turn, mediate the effects of these situational antecedents on job stress, job satisfaction and turnover intentions. Specifically, employees who perceive high levels of politics in their workplace report higher levels of stress, lower levels of job satisfaction and higher levels of intention to quit than do employees who perceive a low level of politics (Poon, 2003). In a recent study, Rosen et al. (2009) examined the role of emotions in mediating the effects of perceived politics on unfavorable employee outcomes. They proposed that frustration translates employees' perceptions of politics into lower levels of performance and increased organizational withdrawal (i.e., turnover intentions) through a mediational path that involves job satisfaction. In this work we demonstrate that perceptions of organizational politics may lead to better performance.


Theoretical contributions on organizational politics

Organizational politics has been a field of study since the 1970's, although it has been defined differently by different authors. Pettigrew (1973) defined organizational politics as the strategies executed by individuals or groups of individuals when they want to advance themselves or their ideas, regardless of whether or not those ideas would help the company. Mayes and Allen (1977) define politics as the use of influence for ends or means that are not approved by firms. An important author in the field, Pfeffer (1981), defines organizational politics as "the study of power in action". This definition includes all influence processes that occur in workplace and involves a "market place" in which individuals or groups interact to exchange certain outcomes (Blau, 1964; Rusbult and Farrel, 1983; and Rusbult et al, 1988).

Although an organizational culture is comprised of many elements, the political aspect is the most crucial one as it is adverse to most organizational concerns (Riley, 1983). Altman et al (1985) argued that the intent of organizational politics is to protect or enhance an individual's self-interest and to further another person's or group's interests or goals through legitimate, as well as non-sanctioned means. Political behavior and the use of power affect almost every important decision in an organization (Pfeffer, 1981). When asked to talk about political behavior in the workplace, employees typically describe it in negative terms and associate organizational politics with self-serving behavior that promotes personal objectives, usually at the expense of others (Vigoda, 2000). Kacmar and Ferris (1991), and Ferris and Kacmar (1992) have mentioned that the higher the perceptions of politics in the eyes of an individual, the lower that person's eyes are on the level of organizational justice.

Organizations with a very high political environment tend to reinforce the behavior of those employees who: (1) engage in the tactical use of influence, (2) take credit for the work of others, (3) are members of powerful coalitions, and (4) have connections to high-ranking allies. As organizations reward these activities, demands are placed on workers to engage in political behaviors to compete for resources (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).

Political activities in a company should be delineated so we can discuss the organizational politics presented in the empirical study examined in this work. In this sense, within a company, what kinds of activities can be considered as politics? In the definition that we proposed, derived from the contributions of different authors (Butcher & Clarke, 2003; Connor & Morrison, 2001; Drory, 1993; Kacmar & Carlson, 1997), the term organizational politics is used to refer to the conscious behavior that individuals, with the strategic intentionality of obtaining or improving positions of privilege within the group, use to reconcile different and even conflicting interests and objectives.

In common with some other authors, we identify three independent lines of research in the area of organizational politics: the first focuses on influence tactics initiated by members of the organization members (Kipnis et al, 1980; Schriesheim and Hinkin, 1990; Zanzi and O'Neill, 2001; Wells and Kipnis, 2001). In this sense political behavior represents an opportunity rather than a constraint for organizational actors (Pfeffer, 1981; Valle and Perre, 2000). The second focuses on employees' subjective perceptions of politics (POP), rather than on influence-tactics or actual political behavior (Ferris et al.,1989; Ferris and Kacmar, 1992; Parker et al., 1995; Rosen et al., 2006). This trend seems to have dominated the respective literature (Vigoda, 2003: 7-8). The third has been recently advanced by scholars and is based on the idea that political skill appears to affect the enactment of political behavior in organizations (Ferris et al., 2007; Harris et al., 2007b; Kolodinsky et al., 2007).

Previous studies of company politics have focused on variables such as organizational results, anxiety at work, commitment of employees to the company, job satisfaction and personal factors (Randall et al., 1999). They have also covered context-based performance and personality (Witt et al., 2002), the way in which employees treat each other in order to impress their bosses (Zivnuska, et al., 2004), and the size of the enterprise as it relates to perceived independence (Conner, 2006). Nevertheless, we have not been able to find studies that reveal a relationship between office politics and organizational outcomes which also have affective commitment as a moderating variable.

Many authors argue that the presence of organizational politics within the organization is a dangerous and negative factor as it relates to labor, particularly in terms of employee performance and organizational outcomes. Nevertheless, empirical research seeks to identify a set of factors that may have the potential to mitigate the harmful effects of perceived politics. Findings support the idea that employees who are in position to properly assess the underlying rationale of organizational...

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