What Is Favoritism in the Workplace? Definition and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

February 22, 2021

Whether you're an HR professional, someone in a leadership position or a company employee, it is important to understand the concept of favoritism in the workplace. Favoritism causes awkward and biased situations that can easily be fixed with the right education. By being able to identify it, you can take necessary action to ensure better practices in the future.

In this article, we define favoritism in the workplace, review how it affects your work environment, discuss how to address and prevent instances of favoritism and provide a few examples to help you determine if it's present in your workplace.

Related: 4 Ways To Improve Organizational Climate

What is favoritism in the workplace?

In the workplace, favoritism refers to a situation where someone in a leadership position demonstrates favor toward one employee over others. This is usually unrelated to their job performance and instead occurs due to a personal bond or friendship shared between the two. From this, the favored employee may receive more advanced projects or promotions than others who have better qualifications. They might also receive fewer or no repercussions for tardiness or inability to meet deadlines.

Related: How To Navigate Workplace Politics

Disadvantages of favoritism in the workplace

Favoritism presents several effects to the workplace Here are some potential disadvantages of this behavior:

Increased feelings of resentment

Seeing your manager demonstrating favoritism towards one of your coworkers may cause you to become resentful towards your manager and your coworker, even if your coworker hasn't done anything wrong. If you start feeling jealous or upset due to favoritism, try talking to a member of your HR department.

Loss of respect for company leadership

When someone in a leadership position openly favors one employee above everyone else, you may lose respect for them and may be less willing to follow their directions.

Decreased motivation and productivity

It is frustrating when your work ethic and devotion to your company continually go unnoticed while your coworker receives praise or special perks for what you perceive as less effort. For this reason, you may feel like it's hard to focus, and you may lose your motivation for your job. Try to remember what drove you to pursue the job you have now. You may be able to motivate yourself if you love the work you do.

Higher employee turnover rates

Favoritism could potentially lead to higher turnover rates because employees feel like their work isn't appreciated or that they won't be able to advance in the company. If you contemplate leaving your company due to favoritism, consider meeting with your manager to voice your concerns before deciding to move on.

Inability to advance within the company

When a manager favors one employee, they may be more willing to give them promotions or special assignments that help them advance their skill sets and obtain more senior positions. This may cause you to miss out on potential opportunities for your own advancement. If you fear you're being overlooked for opportunities, meet with your manager to ask about advancement opportunities within your company. You may need to be proactive to show them your qualifications.

Related: You Have Been Passed Over for a Promotion: What Now?

How to address favoritism in the workplace

Use these four steps to address favoritism in the workplace:

1. Evaluate whether it's actually favoritism

Take the time to review your work ethic and performance details in relation to the favored employee. It may not be favoritism but other factors instead, such as an employee having creative ideas, always being positive or always asking for ways to improve. In this case, you can learn from their actions and model yourself after them to improve your work performance.

2. Speak directly with leadership

Talk with a member of HR, your manager or both about the situation. It's possible that your manager didn't know their actions made you and other employees feel undervalued. Having an honest discussion early on gives management the opportunity to revise their relationship with you and your coworkers for a healthy work environment.

3. Refrain from venting to other employees

This may cause you to seem unprofessional, and places you and your coworkers in an awkward position. It may also increase resentment and contribute to a lack of trust in the workplace. Try to stay positive and focused so you can maintain a professional image among your coworkers.

4. Speak up more than once

If you feel like your meetings addressing favoritism with your manager aren't improving, don't be afraid to revisit the discussion more than once. If things still don't improve, it might be time to look for opportunities where you know you'll be valued.

How to prevent favoritism in the workplace

Follow this list of steps to help prevent favoritism within the workplace if you think another employee receives special treatment:

1. Incorporate the topic into onboarding discussions

If you work in HR, be sure to make favoritism a topic of discussion during the employee onboarding process, especially for those coming into leadership roles. This allows new employees to distinguish what favoritism looks like versus praise for good work ethic. It also shows new managers the importance of ensuring equal treatment of their employees.

2. Suggest a workplace cultural survey

Talk with your HR department to develop an anonymous survey to gauge the level of favoritism employees witness or experience within the company. This may be helpful in confirming or denying your inclinations about favoritism and could help create change within your department if others feel the same.

3. Develop open communication

Talking to your manager about how you feel can open up an honest form of communication between the two of you. This is necessary whether you feel like they're favoring you too much or overlooking you, as it gives them the opportunity to apologize, explain their reasoning or redirect their management strategy to become more inclusive.

How to resolve favoritism as the favored employee

If you believe you could be on the receiving end of favoritism in the workplace, follow these steps:

1. Give credit to your coworkers

If you are the one receiving favoritism from a manager, you can make sure your coworkers feel valued by giving them praise during company meetings for helping you complete a task. You may also decide to correct your manager if they give you praise for something you didn't do.

2. Suggest your coworkers for projects

It may seem exciting to receive a new task that requires additional skill and responsibility, but if you notice your coworkers continually get overlooked for a new project, you may be able to use your position to help them get the recognition they deserve. This may show your manager that your coworkers are capable of the same projects, and it may help reduce any tension between you and your team.

3. Question additional benefits

Ask your manager why you're receiving certain benefits (e.g. additional vacation time, new office appliances) to gauge their reasoning. You may be able to convince them that everyone in your department should receive the same benefits to maintain a healthy work environment.

4. Maintain a professional relationship

In the case of favoritism, it may be easy to become friends with your manager and converse on a more personal level in the office. You can reduce the chance of favoritism by respectfully declining an offer to see a concert or go with them to a conference. Instead, try to involve the rest of your coworkers to make it about the company and team-building opportunities.

Related: How To Deal with an Unhealthy Work Environment

Examples of favoritism in the workplace

Here are some examples of favoritism in the workplace to help you determine whether this type of behavior is present in your job:

Gifts

Unless it's an employee's birthday or they won a contest, presenting gifts to one employee over another is an example of favoritism. Specific examples include:

  • Your manager gets one employee coffee versus getting everyone in the office coffee.

  • The boutique owner chooses a new sales representative to go with them to the annual trade show instead of one of their long-time assistant managers.

Promotions and opportunities

If a qualified, hard-working employee gets overlooked for a promotion by someone with the company for significantly less time, this may be favoritism. Examples include:

  • The marketing director chooses an employee who had been at the company for six months to become the assistant marketing director over an employee who had been at the company for over 10 years.

  • Your IT manager gives your coworker three advanced assignments in a row while your inquiries for the same assignments go unnoticed.

Praise

If someone in a leadership role only acknowledges the efforts of one employee when a task was equally shared by several other employees, this could be is an example of favoritism. Other examples of favoritism through praise include:

  • The accounting manager praises one accountant for their work on last-minute payroll revisions when three other accountants also helped make revisions.

  • The general manager only gives detailed performance reviews to a select few employees.

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