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Dealing with favouritism at the workplace

Last updated: 05 July, 2011
Dr Anitha Ramachander

Tackling emotions

A notion prevails among employees that they go unrecognised in spite of the hard work they put in

Robert Whipple wrote, “Leaders who practice favouritism in the workplace have no chance to build a culture of trust.”

Favouritism occurs when the leader displays preferential treatment towards those workers who they are socially connected with, to the detriment of other workers and overall firm performance.

It is the most demotivating factor that many of us might experience. In simple terms, it means an individual or a group of people are treated superior than others and it may perhaps not be for the reason of being better at work.

The consequences of favouritism at work are very much discernible in terms of endorsing and promoting someone unduly. Workplace favouritism gives a notion to the other employees that a person is treated in a better way for no valid or convincing reason.


It also shows preferential treatment is based more on knowing the person with less potential thereby leading to discrimination. The action of the leader is evidenced in subtle rather than obvious ways. Favouritism could be identified in one or more of the following ways:

*The superior spends too much time and socialises more with the favourite employee than any other employee in the organisation

*The superior confides in the favourite employee and discusses all the confidential issues

*The superior commends the favourite employee for even a small achievement that others are not praised for

*The superior overlooks even the mistakes made by the favourite employee

*The superior gives additional benefits and assistance for completion of the task to the favourite employee

*The superior takes advises of the favourite employee without gauging the pros and cons even in issues relating to emoluments of other employees

*Above all, the favourite employee enjoys more benefits like better office, added perquisites and benefits than others who are in the same position

When workplace favouritism takes place, it is best to deal with it at its earliest phase. If neglected, over a period of time, it gets translated into reactions such as, other employees disliking work, withholding of information, frequent arguments leading to a stifling work environment, distrust and bitterness towards the boss and the favourite employee.

The signal of dislike itself is a threat to the workplace. Resentment, anger and hatred are the consequences of discrimination which eventually leads to rumours, jealousy and conflicts at the workplace. Jealousy leads to vicious rumours which in turn lead to back stabbing.

The other employees, however dedicated, may feel unrecognised, no matter how hard they work. Favouritism has a great impact in the organisational dynamics of the organisation building animosity between the employees.

A good boss would keep the situation under control and curb favouritism before it gets out of hands. Some bosses even keep changing their favourites frequently. This can happen only in organisation where the boss is weak in taking decisions. There are employees who misuse the power to push and pull one another to be the boss’s favourite. The fact is the employee who is treated special today is not aware that it may not be the same in future.

Robin Sharma says, in The Top 200 Secrets of Success and the Pillars of Self-Mastery, “Never discuss your health, wealth and other personal matters with anyone outside of your immediate family. Be very disciplined in this regard.” But we find some employees discuss their problems with their bosses to gain sympathy and not seek advice. We find some bosses using the employees’ emotions to the maximum advantage.

They also make it a point to have a control over the employee by knowing their personal life. Today, as a matter of survival, many employees do not talk about or protest the advantage taken by the bosses. Instead they too are party in displaying that they are favourites to their boss. The bosses are ignorant about the impact of favouritism.

The serious problems that run down deep are ill feeling, leading to interpersonal problems that may cause severe damage to the growth of the organisation. There is no need to show any favouritism to any employee if a leader is proactive. All the employees are to be treated equally as the goals of the organisation are the same.

Each and every employee has his own tasks, responsibilities and accountability which have to be constantly monitored by the management. A favourite employee is considered to be a thorn to the other employees and paves the way for gossip and rumour. The favourite employee pleases the boss by portraying himself as a loyalist as well as the only good person in the organisation.

When it comes to favouritism, the person disliked by the favourite employee would be the same person disliked by the boss too. At the same time, the favourite employee sees to it that he or she does not even present the achievements of the other employees in the right manner to the boss.

Another reason for favouritism could be that competent employees considering to be less reliable by bosses as there are chances of them leaving the organisation for better opportunity. In many cases, bosses use the favourite employee as a spy to monitor the colleagues. The bosses would reciprocate for the so-called good gesture of the favourite employee who is loyal in terms of personal favour.

Most of the time, bosses are unaware that their behaviour affects the work environment. Their body language, tone of voice, facial expression could be read by employees.

It is quite natural for bosses to have trusted lieutenants in the organisation but there should be a demarcation between trusting an individual and showing favouritism. The leaders of great organisations have special qualities and traits that make them outstanding. It clearly shows that those leaders do not favour any employee but recognise the hard work and performance based on productivity and performance of the employee.

A good organisation sets parameters and criteria for all the employees to perform better and recognises the employees by motivating and paying them adequately. It is often experienced that the favourite employee does not have the adequate potential to even to hold the position offered by the leader.

There are better and deserving employees who feel that by staying in such an organisation, they may not be properly recognised. As a result, they move away to greener pastures where merit is recognised.

Leaders need to build trust and show their integrity at work place instead of nurturing preferential treatment. A good leader is one who practices honesty, sincerity, fairness and is trustworthy and above all, is impartial. He never practices favouritism. He is straightforward so that he not only motivates others, but also gains respect and high regard because of the sound moral values he possesses.

A good leader should craft such a place for himself that employees take his advice during difficult times and come to him for suggestions when they are facing problems. A leader should be a mentor to others. It is not advisable to maintain overly close relationship as there is always a clear line drawn between a leader and a subordinate.

A boss who plays the game of favouritism would also pitch one against the other as a tactic to bring about competition and get the best from the subordinates. As a boss, it is imperative to know how employees feel and nip the problems before they blossom. 

Some actions of favouritism also include giving advances to employees, not because of a genuine need, but because they are in the good books of bosses, rather than their quality of work.

Hiring people who are known to the boss or family members, extending deadlines that are not met by favourite employee, ignoring factors like punctuality, attentiveness, praising only one person knowing very well there were many involved in the success are other incidences. Favouritism has to be eradicated and bosses must foster positivity by avoiding it.

The following are some of the ways to eradicate favouritism in the work place:
*Follow strict performance measures within the authority to ensure that advancement, perks and compensation are strictly based on individual accomplishments

*As a boss, treat everyone fairly. Recognise and appreciate the good work of the employees and do not discriminate

*
Practice an open door policy to build a culture of trust. The purpose is to encourage open communication, feedback and discussion about any matter of importance to the employee

*
Discourage family relationships in the workplace to guard against partiality

*Be completely aware of the gossip in the work environment and evaluate honestly to determine whether or not you are treating someone better than other employees

*
If you are demonstrating favouritism make sure you stop it rightaway

There are lots of other implications of favouritism which have very negative impact in the organisation beyond gossips, jealousy and hatred.

To conclude, it is only the boss’s role to avoid favouritism as it destroys the relationships and trust of the employees. Remember employees’ productivity depends on the way the bosses treat them and recognise each and every one for their unique potential.

Preferential treatment or favouritism is perilous. It sneaks into the workplace and tears down relationships and trusts. It resides in the shadows and is noticed by people even when it is veiled.

A boss, in a strict sense would not purposely impair the peace and group dynamics which is crucial for the success of an organisation.

We must always be alert of its existence and contain it. Now that you know what favouritism is all about, if you are a leader or a boss, do not encourage or nurture it and if you are an employee or subordinate, avoid being that favourite employee and distance yourself from others.

(The writer is Director, Adarsh Institute of Management and Information Technology (AIMIT). Email: anithar72@yahoo.com)

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