Employees might be professional, qualified and experienced, but they’re still human and still susceptible to emotions better left outside the workplace. Jealousy, anger, fear, sullenness and worry can occur in business environments at any time, but these negative emotions are exacerbated when favoritism takes place. Before indulging in workplace favoritism, consider how your actions might affect other workers.
Favoritism in the workplace means giving preferential treatment to one or more employees. Preferential treatment can be intentional; for example, an employer could assign the choicest responsibilities to the most veteran worker or hotshot upstart by explaining that his abilities justify the extra attention and tasks. Preferential treatment can also be subconscious; for example, employees might notice that an older male supervisor seems to treat young female workers with friendly smiles and encouragement while benignly ignoring male workers in the hallways.
One of the primary effects of workplace favoritism on employees is resentment. Workers feel that, no matter how hard they work, it won’t matter because preferred employees will always get better benefits, more attention and greater opportunities. Employees often resent the special worker, treating her with unkindness and gossiping about reasons for preferential treatment. Workers also resent their employer, becoming less willing to participate actively in the company mission.
If employees feel that they’re being passed over for new responsibilities or promotions because all goodies are funneled toward favorite workers, lower motivation results. Employees slack off, taking less care with assigned duties and being more reluctant to volunteer for additional tasks. This results in lower productivity, missed deadlines and lower overall morale.
Employees sometimes take legal action against employers who engage in egregious favoritism, citing preferential treatment based on gender or ethnicity. If workplace favoritism is widespread, for example, an employer offers preferential treatment to workers based on sexual favors, employees could cite a hostile work environment. This can lead to serious repercussions, including court fees, restitution awards and loss of professional reputation.
If you’re an employer engaging in preferential treatment of employees, it’s time to stop. Signs that you’re promoting favoritism include spending extra time with preferred workers, overlooking mistakes made by favorite employees and assigning perks to employees because you like them. If you’re an employee working in an environment where a boss is practicing favoritism, double-check your impressions by looking for specific examples of preferred treatment. Once you’ve confirmed that this is a problem in your workplace, visit the personnel department with your examples. Explaining the situation in a concise, professional way gives you more credibility; be careful not to make rash accusations.
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Policy Guidance on Employer Liability
- Anonymous Employee: Employee Favoritism
- Office-Ethics.com: Office Ethics Columns
- People Communicating: Managing Conflict in the Workplace
- Leadership Articles: Favoritism in the Workplace; Phil Morettini
- Corporate Counsel: Avoiding Liability for Office Romances Through Use of "Love Contracts"; Martin W. Aron; April 2007
- Catherine Yeulet/iStock/Getty Images