01/25/2012 08:25 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why the Republican Primaries Are Like Your Workplace

Today's workplace is a reflection of the times: uncertain and unstable. As employees navigate this short-term, fast-paced, tension-filled terrain, they develop an attitude that creates an uneasy environment: survival mode. Does this set of conditions remind you of anything? How about the current Republican primary battles?

Primary campaigns, just like workplaces, start out being focused on the planning and execution of short, mid-range and long-term goals. They are teams and places where careers are born and legacies are created. But now, long-term political goals have been eclipsed by short-term personal goals: survive the unknown long enough to stay in the game. For politicians and employees alike this means adapting to a role where time management is unmanageable and where everything is a priority.

As you think about the dynamics in your workplace, compare it in your mind with what the Republican candidates are going through, and watch out for these five signs of survival mode:

1) Relationship Building Amongst Peers is Fading

Campaigns always begin on a cordial note, with the politicians promising to keep the campaign clean and the remarks polite. But now, it's kill or be killed, and the politicians and their campaigns are freely trashing each other.

Similarly, in the past, having lunch with the colleagues you worked most closely with was normal. Now you're lucky if anyone in the office can spend time with you during work hours. Because employees in survival mode focus specifically on people who can salvage their jobs and careers, socializing is infrequent and relationships are fading.

2) Meetings Are Frequently Cancelled or Rescheduled

Just ask the schedulers of the Republican candidates how impossible it is to stick to the plan. Everything's urgent, a fire that has to be put out - whether it's tax returns or an ex-wife or offshore earnings.

In the workplace, the survival-mode environment has made it increasingly difficult to get a team of people in a room, because they each have a different set of urgent issues to deal with. Canceling and rescheduling meetings has become more common than ever because people want to make sure that the right people are in the room so they can sell themselves, rather than advancing the organization's initiatives.

3) People Don't Trust One Another

The first casualty of a hard-fought campaign is trust. While politicians may mean well when they promise to keep it clean, soon they're pointing fingers at the other guy and blaming him for starting the ugly smears.

In the workplace, because everyone has their own survival agenda, employees have grown to distrust one another. Since people don't know their colleagues' hidden agendas, employees are wary of engaging with those who may violate their trust to advance themselves. One example might be two people who were once close colleagues competing for the same promotion within their department.

4) Turnover is High and Employer Loyalty is Low

Most of Gingrich's campaign staff quit over the summer. As soon as a candidate drops out of the race, the staff scrambles to find positions in other campaigns. Loyalty is fleeting.

Similarly, in the workplace, people become disenfranchised when survival mode takes over. Think about it: When you go to work and people are only interested in themselves, what's the incentive to give more. For example, when your manager is focused more on his or her own advancement than the betterment of the team, it sends the wrong message. Over time you realize that you are not valued and thus you begin to lose that fire in the belly and you lack the desire to give it your all. You become a victim of someone else's survival strategy and thus begin to lose loyalty for your organization. Ultimately, you leave the organization.

This year I have seen this scenario play out more often than not. In fact, people work more on their resumes than their own jobs.

5) Self-Promotion is Out of Control

Of course, political campaigns are all about self-promotion. What would normally be seen as hopelessly egotistical or self-centered is taken as normal as candidates talk about how they are the only person who can save us from ruin, disaster and Armageddon.

In the workplace, self-promotion is the ultimate sign of survival mode. When employees get desperate they begin to sell themselves in ways that become irresponsible and that can harm the organization and client relationships. Survival mode creates a fierce dog-eat-dog mentality. Even the least likely employee can turn on a dime. Keep your eyes wide open, so that you don't get blindsided by the lack of organizational loyalty the survival mode can create.

They don't teach survival mode in school. None of us started our careers hoping to work only for our own short-term goals. But survival mode takes over in more and more workplaces each day, as uncertainty looms and the future becomes unclear. Watch the primaries for all the signs and take note. What the candidates are doing one day will likely show up in your workplace the next.

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