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If you work in an office, you probably already know how awful office life can sometimes be, what with its seemingly endless parade of dealing with other people and performing tasks.

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"Yeah, I'm going to need you to stop looking at BDSM sites and do some wor- is that an actual sword?"

But maybe you don't know. Maybe you're a student hoping to one day work in an office and avoid the fate of toiling away in the corn mines that so many of your peers will succumb to. Well, you should know that office life isn't all it's cracked up to be. Office life isn't just filled with work, but also with petty nonsense like politics and mind games being played by people who like "winning" and are "dillbags." At their best, these mind games get in the way of the actual work being done and impede any sense of job satisfaction a normal person might derive from their work. At their worst? They make people cry and quit and go home and go insane.

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The corn mines don't sound so bad now, do they?

Here, then, for your reading pleasure (and to stave off the weeping for a few minutes) are six dirty tricks you can find in most offices.


If you do something well at your job, you would expect to receive some sort of acknowledgment and advantage from it, whether in the form of pay, promotion, or just an extremely vigorous pat on the back.

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But if you're incapable of doing something well at work, perhaps due to a prior head injury or simply not caring very much, you can still gain the same advantage by stealing credit for someone else's work. This can be as subtle as saying "I helped with that" or "My work made that possible," or as crude as saying "I did that, that was me" while holding your hand over the mouth of whoever actually did it.

How prevalent this is in an organization will depend a lot on its internal politics and the mentality of the people who work there. If a bottom-line mentality has been instilled, where the only thing that matters is profit and employees are naturally more competitive, this is much more likely to happen. And of course in any organization managers will be much more capable of stealing credit from their subordinates than the other way around due to the simple fact that the senior managers the manager is talking to will almost never deign to speak with a junior employee themselves.

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"Oh! A norm! I've read about you. Pass on my hello to your brood-wives, and good luck in the coming harvest."

Power Plays

Workplace politics, simply stated, are how the power of an organization is actually distributed and shared, in a way that the formal organization chart might not reflect. Some people, by dint of experience, resources, or screaming ability, hold more power in the workplace, and it's often the case that for anyone else to actually get something done, they'll have to go through those people first. Everyone plays workplace politics at least a little bit; we need to to actually get stuff done. It's just that most people do it unconsciously. Which is good. Because the people who do it consciously are lizards.

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"I hear you, Eddie, and I want to help, but what's in this for me?"

Which brings us to the power play, one of those petty little games designed to get power or curry favor from those who have it. There's an endless variety of these; the number of gimmicks surrounding seating arrangements alone is astounding, like always sitting to the right of your boss at a meeting, or picking chairs that are subtly higher than everyone else's, or arranging the seats at a meeting to put an unfavored person at the end of the room.

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Behind the Coke machine.

This can also take the form of petty one-upmanship, parading around your successes and glorious tail feathers while mocking others' mistakes, all to make yourself look more powerful and important, and thus in some people's minds become more powerful and important. In its most extreme form, this is basically indistinguishable from workplace bullying, especially when one participant thinks they're playing a fun game of one-upmanship and the other participant isn't a participant at all and just wants to do their work without having some alpha peacock pushing them to the ground all the time.

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"Oh, stop crying. I was just horsing around."

The downsides to this should be obvious: In an office rife with politics, power plays, and other mind games, it takes a great deal of effort even to speak with another co-worker, much less to actually get stuff done. When all your attention is devoted to not getting stabbed in the back (or face), how much effort will you put into actually doing the work?

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The Climate of Fear

Imagine a hellish dreamscape of torment and screen savers, cubicles upon cubicles filled with the sound of crying and clanking manacles.

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Somewhere, the distant sound of an air-raid siren announces it is time for the Feeding to commence.

Now imagine that this nightmare exists because someone deliberately created it.

Fear can be a powerful motivator, and whether it comes from people afraid of losing their job (perhaps if the economy in that town or industry is particularly bad) or a tyrannical manager who's too important to offend, the benefits to the manager who instills that fear can be significant. People will work harder, for longer hours, and with much fewer complaints about low pay or health and safety.

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Or all the wasps in the lunch room.

Even in cases where the economy is fine and the manager isn't that important, many managers will do a variety of things to make their workers uncomfortable and competitive with each other. Bonuses and favor will be zero sum, forcing employees to compete with each other. Subordinates who develop close working relationships with each other will be separated to keep them off balance and powerless. Or someone will be given meaningless tasks, solely to demoralize them.

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"Eddie, please count all the wasps in the lunch room."

Deliberate Incompetence

Not that employees don't have a way of fighting back. Consider the case when an order or direction arrives that a subordinate disagrees with.

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"Eddie, please name all the wasps in the lunch room."

Very few subordinates will outright refuse to do this. Very few things are worth risking our jobs over. So they'll do it. They'll just do it really poorly.

In this manner.

And with their incompetence preventing the order from effectively being carried out, the subordinate gets their way without having openly defied their boss, in the process possibly making their boss look bad. And because it's much harder to discipline an incompetent employee than an insubordinate one, that subordinate often gets away with it. Incompetence takes longer to detect, and even when it is detected, it usually takes repeated instances of incompetence to receive discipline. In most workplaces, incompetence results in extra training and manpower being assigned to the task. Really, the worst case scenario is that the boss will just give you the task again, only now they're a bit angrier.

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"Eddie, please eat all the wasps in the lunch room."

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Malicious Competence

There's an even more perverse form of screwing over your boss called malicious competence. In those cases, the subordinate understands that an order their manager has given won't work but follows it anyway, knowing that the failure will reflect poorly on the manager. Even if the subordinate has the power and ability to "make it work," they'll choose not to because the failure will benefit them more, perhaps because they expect to be promoted when their manager is beheaded for their failing.

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"Yes, I would like to move up in an organization that consumes its own so violently."

This also shows up specifically in union environments, where one of the possible job actions a union can take is work-to-rule. When that's declared, employees will conduct their work in accordance with the written rules and regulations, ignoring all the undocumented procedures and workarounds that are a necessary part of basically every job. Actual work grinds to a halt as a result, even though everyone's still there, doing their "job."

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"I want to count those wasps, but I won't until I get those T8-BTA forms filled in and have H&S assess my footwear first."

Setting Up to Fail

Back to the managers again, with the flip side of malicious competence. When someone is "set up to fail," that means they've been given a task that has no chance of success. Depending on how a particular office is set up, this can be done by co-workers and peers as they hog resources among themselves, but it's most commonly done by managers, in the form of giving someone not enough resources or time to do a job properly.

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"Eddie, I'm going to need that solid gold pyramid on my desk by the end of Friday."

Another option is to withhold important information from the person doing the work, or "shifting the goalposts," which means changing how the work will be judged without telling the person doing it.

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"You didn't know? The solid gold pyramid has to be leopard print now, Eddie. And also a working leopard.
We need a leopard, basically, is what I'm saying."

Implicit in "setting up to fail" is the notion that the failure benefits the person setting up the task in some way. Whether it's to make a disliked colleague or subordinate look bad, to kill an unfavored project, or simply just to feel something, anything, if there's no actual benefit to the manager, then it's not actually setting up to fail. That's just incompetent management, which is too everyday of an occurrence to really count as a dirty trick.

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Except by the universe, on us.

Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and would like to remind all current and future employers that he is a synergistic team success story player. Join him on Facebook or Twitter to make generous job offers.

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