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Spotting Favoritism at Work and How to Combat it

04 March 2022

It’s absolutely normal to have a favorite. You have a favorite song to listen to, a favorite book to read, a favorite place to relax, a favorite person. The list goes on. It is, however, different when we talk about practicing favoritism in the workplace. It is toxic and illegal in some instances.

All of us have our biases based on our backgrounds, how we were raised, who we are usually with, etc. Even though we try our best not to show prejudice to anyone, our subconscious automatically stereotypes people and other things. This, whether we notice it or not, makes us lean towards people of the same background or interests.

When this happens in the workplace, a leader should be mindful and reject any action or behavior that could be regarded as favoritism. Unfortunately, this isn’t what is happening on the ground. Studies show that senior executives often exercise favoritism in the companies they work at. Most bosses already have a favorite to promote even before a formal selection process starts. That favorite will most likely get the position. These companies have policies to prevent favoritism, especially during the promotion process, but still, the culture persists. More than half have personally witnessed favoritism in play and there are some who even openly admit that they practice it.

favoritism in the workplace

There are many signs that are telling of favoritism in the workplace. For instance, you might notice that your boss spends a lot of time hanging out with specific employees to talk about non-work-related topics. They also spend more time together on work-related topics. When favored employees commit mistakes, the boss lets it pass or uses their authority to cover up for it. There is also a specific open door policy only for certain employees and you notice that they get less, lighter or their desired workload compared to the rest of the team. When resources are limited, you notice that bosses allocate resources to certain employees first. During crunch time, the boss only offers help and mentoring to employees who are their favorites and in the long run, assists in their career development. These employees also get more praise that other workers don’t get praised for. They also get recommendations for a promotion or a performance evaluation that does not match what they put on the table. These employees also get regular feedback that will help improve their work performance compared to others who rarely get one or have to insist that they need one. There is also favoritism when the suggestions of only a few are considered in making a decision or conceptualizing a project. When there is conflict in the office, they automatically side with one employee without hearing the sides of everyone first. And some pertinent information for work is only passed along to the favored ones.

Luckily, there are things that employees can do about favoritism and not just go along with it.

The first thing to do is to assess the situation in the most rational way possible. Emotions might be involved so before doing anything, you should look at what’s happening with a rational mind at first. Look back to that particular moment when you think there is favoritism at play. Factor in all the possibilities as to why that employee received favorable treatment that is above yours and the others. Ask yourself do they have a skill, a qualification, a relationship with your boss that will affect the latter’s decisions? You have to rationally do your assessment so that you know what you will do next.

consult a mentor

One way that could help for you to have a rational perspective is to consult a mentor who is not included in the situation. Show them your initial view of what’s happening and say what you want to happen. You should be open to what their opinion will be and hear them out for the advice they will give. These valuable insights will help you come up with an effective solution to the favoritism problem you are going through.

After thinking it through, then you must be firm with your decision and next course of action. Be confident in standing up for yourself to fight this culture of favoritism in your workplace. Provide sufficient and strong evidence of the favoritism you are questioning. Do not mince your words and use clear and direct speech.

If you are a leader, boss, superior, or manager in the office, then you are also part of the problem and the solution for it. Ask yourself about your unconscious biases. Harvard University created the Implicit Association Test so that it will help others determine their thoughts and feelings which may not exist in their conscious realm. Using these tests, people will be able to identify their feelings and thoughts that are outside of their consciousness.

stop this culture of favoritism in the private workplace

If you determine that you do not practice favoritism at all, put systems in place to combat it. Write down policies that will stop this culture of favoritism in the private workplace. Ask your employees what they think about it and request for suggestions. They will feel that they are invested in the efforts to combat favoritism. When your employees are involved, it’s much possible to cultivate a culture of no favoritism. Last but not the least is to get the support of a leadership coach. You may already be in a managerial position in your office but that does not mean you can’t learn from others anymore. Tap an expert’s help so that you would get advice from a trained and experienced coach. The coach will be able to challenge your mindset, your approach to thinking and provide you with insightful feedback for a certain period of time. This will be helpful for you not to practice favoritism or to lean towards your inclinations to favor one over the others.

You don’t want to exercise favoritism in the workplace because you will lose the trust of employees, harbor resentment, start conflicts, and kill collaboration and partnerships.

And while you’re trying to give the best to all your employees, why not gift them with ergonomic furniture so that they could work at their best and help the company grow bigger.