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Reggie Makgoba
 
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The orgy of office politics

07 February 2014, 21:30

The experience of starting or doing an internship after years of investing energy and time on postgraduate training could be both rewarding and daunting.

In our trying economy that creates even fewer jobs than previously, it is nearly impossible to have graduates who come straight from university to top positions in the corporate sector, without going through experiential learning, or a graduate programme.

In most cases, internships give graduates a taste of the workplace, and what the industry expects from them, as well as providing much needed exposure to gain better employment. This process may destroy or build careers.

For this reason, a university education should not only provide students with theories and practices about an industry in preparation for the job market, but it should equally enlighten them about the hostility of the workplace.

While universities do their best to educate students to perform certain responsibilities in the various industries, little has been done to help them deal with factors such as office politics, ‘corporate jealousy’ and a supervisor’s possible job insecurities, as well as egos. 

These ‘HR’ factors destroy innocent careers every day, and many graduates cannot anticipate their potential peril due to the lack of experience, or knowledge about working with diverse people. Hence  it is hard to expect a fresh graduate to understand such intricate issues.

However, this does not apply to every graduate. Some are lucky to get internships in the environment that prioritises nurturing talents and encouraging creativity, as well as supporting interns with career development programmes such as inductions, seminars and workshops about the workplace and its challenges.

Conversely, other graduates land internships in a work environment characterised by jealousy and politics, as well as anarchy. For these poor graduates it is as if they have been thrown to the wolves. In some cases, the graduates are victimised and abused because through no fault of their own, they are better qualified than their bosses.  

Unfortunately, in this instance, this discrepancy in qualifications seems to influence their relationship with their supervisor. This situation is aggravated if the latter has both job and personality insecurities.

What is likely to happen is that the supervisor makes sure that the intern does not learn anything and ensures that he or she appears incapable to the powers-that-be. If the supervisor is more malicious – which often happens to be the case – he or she can fabricate lies in order to frustrate the intern and taint his or her reputation.

Because of the lack of experience, many interns may resort to unprofessional behaviour or rebel if the situation becomes unbearable. Sadly, this may effectively destroy their careers.

This kind of situation becomes worse if the insecure supervisor directly reports to the management about the intern’s progress. If a healthy internal communication is not prioritised within an organisation, the culprit may get away with the career murder.

However, this problem does not exonerate interns from wrongdoing. Some develop big egos and profess to be experts because they have so called better education. Just as appropriate and professional behaviour is expected of supervisors so too interns should uphold the proper procedures of the workplace to fully develop as professionals.

Although these kinds of issues are not taught at universities, they have the power to make or break careers. Therefore, it is important for universities to consider having courses that teach and enlighten students about the hostility of the workplace. Their curricula could encompass even what is considered ethical or unethical in an office, such as working overtime without pay, being sent to the shops to buy food, being verbally abused, not only broader professional ethics that are common in every field. 

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