Identify and Combat Favoritism in the Workplace

If an employee feels that a coworker is getting advantages that they aren’t, it may be due to favoritism in the workplace. When someone works with a supervisor or manager who treats a particular individual better than everyone else, it’s possible that favoritism or other unfair actions are taking place. As a business owner and employer, it’s vital that you understand how to recognize favoritism so you can combat it and deal with it accordingly.


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What is favoritism?

You may be familiar with the way that some parents favor one child over the other, but this phenomenon is quite common in the workplace too. When one person (typically a manager or other person in charge) shows preferential treatment toward one employee over the others, it could be that favoritism is occurring.


This behavior happens when a worker receives something like a raise or promotion that is unrelated to their tenure or performance. If an employee happens to perform better or has a better track record than another and gets a raise or perk, it’s not considered favoritism. However, if someone hasn’t outperformed their coworkers and still receives a bonus, promotion or other perk, then it’s possible favoritism is taking place.


Favoritism can create a toxic work environment that may cause hurt feelings, resentment and mistrust among employees. When one person works hard and excels but sees no benefit while another receives perks and favorable treatment without working at the same level, it can have negative ripple effects on your business. In some cases, managers might not realize that they’re showing preference toward one employee over the others. If the behavior continues and the manager is unaware of it, it will likely become the norm until the issue is addressed.


Why favoritism can be harmful at work

If someone notices favoritism at work, it can have serious and harmful effects. Some of the things that can cause harm to your business include:

  • Low morale can spread when employees feel as though their accomplishments and hard work mean nothing to the company or their bosses.
  • Employees may disengage and stop caring about their work. In some cases, they may even try to sabotage the person who they believe is being shown favoritism.
  • The favored employee could begin to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable at work, especially if they realize that they’re not the best at what they do. They may also start to feel like an outcast or that they’re being mistreated by their coworkers due to jealousy or mistrust.
  • Your employee turnover rate may be higher if there’s clear evidence of favoritism at work due to loss of morale or a low work ethic from employees.

People who feel cast aside or as if their hard work is unnoticed may quit or harbor feelings of resentment toward the company. As a business owner, you could lose exceptional people due to favoritism at work. It’s vital to clearly recognize the signs of favoritism so that you can make the necessary changes to combat it.


A toxic workplace is contagious. When morale is low, you might notice that more people are calling in sick or they’re starting to care less about their quality of work. You can’t afford to let favoritism affect your business in this way, which is why it’s so important to recognize the signs and stop them from occurring as soon as possible.


Signs of favoritism

It’s important to recognize the signs if you suspect that there’s favoritism in your workplace. One of the most obvious signs is if someone receives a promotion unrelated to their regularly scheduled review or actual job performance. Another sign is when a supervisor’s relative gets hired or promoted without showing any initiative or proof that they have the skills to do the job they’re required to do. This is also referred to as nepotism, and it’s a common issue in many small businesses where owners or managers hire or promote their own family members.


Other signs of favoritism include accepting feedback or input only from specific employees or giving certain workers more attention and assistance than others. Certain people may get a pass when it comes to showing up late or asking for time off, which is also a clear indication that favoritism is taking place. If you notice that someone is abusing the rules or suddenly seems to have a sense of entitlement, there’s a possibility that there’s favoritism at work. Excessive praise for one individual or extreme friendliness toward them can also be an indicator of favoritism.


Tips for how to prevent and combat favoritism

It’s crucial to know how to prevent and combat favoritism at work to ensure that you maintain a positive company culture. While your Human Resources department can help draft a code of conduct to address favoritism, there are other things you can do to prevent it:

  • Let your managers know when they’re showing signs of favoritism toward certain employees and politely ask them to change their behavior.
  • Set up ground rules to prevent favoritism right away and make it part of your company policy so that everyone is on the same page from day one.
  • Create a set of metrics that accurately measure employee performance at all levels, regardless of how the manager may feel about a specific individual.
  • Try to discourage friendship between employees and higher-ups by prohibiting managers from spending time with employees outside of the workplace.
  • Always call out favoritism when you see it by talking to your managers and employees about it separately and in private.
  • Stay consistent with company policies, including rules about lateness and absenteeism, so there are no double standards taking place. Enforce these rules across the board, including for managers.

When you’re able to recognize favoritism before things get out of hand, you have a much better chance of nipping it in the bud. Make sure that all of your managers understand how to utilize a specific set of metrics to perform employee reviews and give promotions or suggest raises. Talk to your employees and stay in communication with them about their work environment. If someone raises a concern, listen to them carefully and then address the problem immediately if you think that favoritism is taking place.


You don’t have to heap constant praise on all of your employees, but complementing and acknowledging their hard work can be a good step toward creating a healthy, positive work environment. Try to include as many people as possible in big projects and listen to suggestions and feedback with an open mind. Encourage more communication between employees and upper management. Asking for input and listening to your employees’ concerns can go a long way toward making sure that everyone feels included and appreciated.


Favoritism in the workplace FAQs


Is favoritism illegal at work?

Technically, favoritism isn’t illegal, but it’s a good practice to avoid it. Social and family connections or personality-based favoritism is legal, but it’s not the best way to encourage a positive workplace for all. It’s important to note that favoritism can be considered illegal if someone receives preferential treatment based on a protected characteristic like gender, age or race.


What’s the difference between cronyism and nepotism?

Cronyism occurs when a business owner or manager gives favors, perks or monetary rewards to their close friends, donors or investors. With cronyism, someone may receive special perks or financial benefits simply by being closely associated with the owner or person in charge of the business. Nepotism occurs when the same perks are being given to direct relatives and family members. With nepotism, unqualified family members may be hired, promoted or otherwise given preferential treatment over other more deserving employees.


Is favoritism the same as discrimination?

While favoritism is never a good thing, it’s not the same as discrimination. It’s very important to know and understand employee discrimination laws so you can recognize the difference. If it’s clear that someone is receiving an advantage over another person based on their gender, age, race or sexual preference, it’s possible that discrimination is taking place. A good example of discrimination would be a manager providing promotions to people of the same race or religion and never to others who aren’t of the same heritage or religious belief.

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