We all have that one coworker who receives preferential treatment. Favoritism in the workplace causes less harm than bullying or harassment, but it can still affect employee morale and fuel conflicts. This type of behavior can be intentional or accidental. Either way, it creates an unlevel playing field and negatively impacts a company's culture.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Favoritism in the workplace fosters conflicts, discourages competition and affects employees' morale. If left unaddressed, it can hurt the organization’s bottom line and overall performance.
What Is Favoritism?
All employees, regardless of their skills and experience, are entitled to equal treatment. Yet, favoritism is thriving in the modern workplace. This kind of behavior involves giving preferential treatment to one or more employees for reasons other than their work performance and results. In a survey, 84 percent of senior executives admitted that they witness this practice on a constant basis.
Favoritism can take many forms. Sometimes, it occurs when an employee and a manager are related or have developed a friendship. For example, if a relative of the company's manager receives preferential treatment, that's nepotism. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 20 percent of Americans will be employed by the same company at the same time as their fathers by age 30; this practice isn't necessarily bad or illegal, but it promotes nepotism in the workplace.
Business owners may also favor one employee over another because they have a romantic relationship or an affair with that person – even if dating isn't allowed in the workplace. In some cases, such as when the manager treats his young assistant better than 50-year-old Mary, favoritism could be age-related and hence illegal. This kind of behavior can easily cross the line into sexual harassment or racial discrimination.
How Does Favoritism Affect Employees?
One of your colleagues is constantly being late at work or missing deadlines, but he gets away with everything. You see him hanging out in the manager's office almost every day, laughing and having a good time. If you're ever late for a meeting or you miss a deadline, the consequences are dire. This is just one example of favoritism in the workplace.
No one wants to deal with a boss who plays favorites. This kind of behavior affects employees' motivation and engagement, causes resentment and encourages disrespect. If left unaddressed, it can break a team apart and hurt the company's bottom line. People may feel that no matter how hard they work, they’ll never get the same attention and benefits as the manager's favorite employees.
Favoritism and nepotism have a negative impact on teamwork, communication, employee relationships and work performance. Rewards and promotions are not based on objective criteria, which may discourage competition and affect team morale. A manager who engages in this type of behavior is not allowing his team to grow and reach its full potential. This can hurt employees' productivity, increase turnover rates and even lead to lawsuits.
Avoid Playing Favorites at Work
As a manager or business owner, you might be playing favorites without realizing it. For example, if you're constantly giving privileges to a few, select employees or putting them in charge when you're gone, that's favoritism. Your other employees may start questioning your decisions and leave the company if they feel that they'll never be part of that "special" group. The injustice of the situation will affect your team as a whole, leading to diminished performance, low employee morale, frustration and complaints of discrimination.
While it's normal to have one or more favorite employees, you should treat them the same way you treat everyone. Establish a universal system to assess your staff members and leave your personal preferences aside. Dedicate equal time and attention to all employees, whether you're in a meeting or having lunch together.
Keep track of who's doing what and use objective criteria to monitor their performance. Encourage open communication in the workplace so that your employees can feel comfortable sharing their opinion. Focus on creating a professional environment where everyone has equal chances of success. When you promote someone internally, be clear about the criteria you use and explain why you're choosing one person over another.
- Census.gov: Fathers, Children, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Employers
- Forbes: A Common but Overlooked Management Problem: Playing Favorites
- Employment Law Firms: Favoritism in the Workplace: Is It Illegal?
- eSkill: Favoritism and Nepotism - Managing Favoritism in the Workplace
- Fortune: The Dangers of Playing Favorites at Work
- Catherine Yeulet/iStock/Getty Images