Using Information and E-Mail for Political Gain; E-Mail and Workplace Politics Have Merged for a Common, If Unintended, Purpose: E-Politics, the Use of Information and Electronic Communication to Further Political Purposes. (CareerPath)

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At the Core

This article:

* Defines the term "e-politics"

* Explains how e-mail can be used in the workplace for political gain

For most organizations, e-mail is already the communication channel of choice for processing work-related messages. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 80 percent of all organizations use e-mail for business communication. Moreover, the use of electronic communication will continue to increase as the cost of, and resistance to, new communication technologies decline.

Studies show that e-mail is used primarily to replace time-consuming and expensive conventional workplace communication methods. But like many forms of technology, the potential for e-mail abuse coexists alongside its numerous advantages. In one study, a significant majority of workers--86 percent--reported using the company e-mail system for a variety of personal reasons, including the transmittal of personal messages, jokes, electronic greeting cards, pornography, and games. Few workers can honestly say they have never used their employer's e-mail system to send a personal message or the joke-of-the-day.

Aside from the purely personal use of the company's communication technology, there is another form of e-mail transgression--not official, yet not unofficial--that assumes a quasi-sanctioned form of electronic communication. It's an interesting mix of Machiavelli and message: the use of e-mail to further purely political and self-serving goals. This new combination of organizational politics and electronic media can be called e-politics. This marriage of communications technology and political behavior in the workplace may lead to unforeseen and dysfunctional results as people increasingly use e-mail for political gain within their organization.

E-mail as an Enabler for Organizational Politics

Communication is a process requiring senders to make choices, each of which will create consequences affecting how that message will be interpreted. According to the authors of "The Selection of Communication Media as an Executive Skill" one of the most significant choices is channel selection. When choosing e-mail as the channel, all employee may sincerely believe that expediency and efficacy are the primary criteria driving that choice. However, self-serving motives and manipulative intent may also come into play.

As a unique communication channel, e-mail, unlike face-to-face, telephone, and written memo, possesses properties and characteristics that facilitate and enhance both the creation and dissemination of self-serving messages in organizations. Thus, even though an employee may engage in organizational politics face-to-face, over the phone, or in a written note, e-mail provides the sender with opportunities and channel enhancements not found in the other three channels.

And, e-mail allows the employee to engage in political behavior with less effort, energy, and time than would be required through other channels.

E-mail is not just an "electronic tether" between sender and receiver. An e-mail message might be a complex form of communication that includes multiple recipients and attachments. E-mail features that are both important and powerful include:

* Listservs (a.k.a. distribution lists): Electronic mailing lists in which messages are sent to multiple recipients enable e-mail senders to reach a wide audience such as subordinates, work groups and teams, peers, departments, and divisions--even the entire organization--with a single click of the mouse. Those who seek to strengthen their political bases will find listservs particularly valuable, as it enables communication with large numbers of people without the need for a physical presence. Moreover, by simply manipulating electronic phone books, unique networks can be created for ad hoc, self-serving purposes.

* Attachments: A wide variety of attachments may be included with e-mail: for example, documents or files such as memos, letters, reports, photos, and video clips. …