Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Favoritism in the workplace and its Effect On the Organization

Fr. Damianus Abun, SVD, MBA, Ph.D

March 2014


Often time management falls into trap by doing favor to a certain person or certain group and ignoring other group without necessarily being aware of its consequence. Such management behavior is common everywhere in any organization. Everywhere favoritism, nepotism can be found and in an organization such preferential group does exist. Often time they call it “circle of influence”. They are called circle of influence because those persons who are treated special and considered closed to the top management can also influence the management's decision and other people's behavior. Because of their closeness to the top and their influence to the management,  other people call this group “the untouchable". They are called untouchable because of their closeness and influence to the top management. Other group has to be careful dealing with such group because it can cause their employment. Unfortunately often time, the management is undermining of its consequence to the other employees and the organization. Undeniably such preference creates jealousy and may lead to conflict. Not only causing conflict, it may affect the performance of other employees and the performance of the organization. In this simple article we will explain different kind of favoritism, the effect favoritism and how to handle favoritism.

Favoritism in the workplace

Favoritism in the workplace refers to a practice in which a person is treated differently better than others, not necessarily because the person has the qualification in terms of skill requirements but sometimes other aspects that are not related to job performance. The management is giving preferential treatment to one or more employees. Sometimes such preferential treatment can be intentional; for example, an employer could assign the choicest responsibilities to the most veteran worker or hotshot upstart by explaining that his abilities justify the extra attention and tasks. Preferential treatment can also be subconscious; for example, employees might notice that an older male supervisor seems to treat young female workers with friendly smiles and encouragement while benignly ignoring male workers in the hallways even though they are performing good job. Problems happen when attention and appreciation or recognition is not given equally to all employees. It is worst when the recognition is given to those who are not deserved.

Definitely favoritism in the workplace is counter-productive and, in some cases, unethical and illegal. When management assigns responsibility or gives promotions based on favoritism, not based on the performance, the company will not be able to attract the most qualified person for a job. It discourages excellent performance and encouraged mediocrity. Hard work is not recognized but laziness. Promotion is not based on the merit but based on certain favors. Such practices, soon or later, can damage the company. Favoritism compromises performance and quality. Promotion is given to the one who has offered sexual services to the boss, while those who are deserved are ignored. Soliciting sexual favors for job advancement,is clearly immoral, not only illegal. Soliciting gift from certain group or individuals and in return for promotion is immoral. Giving promotion to the whites but not to the blacks is clearly discrimination. There are many kind of practices that indicate the existence of favoritism in the workplace. Thus, employees should be vigilant to those practices and prevent it from getting rooted in the organization. Those who are responsible for the top management, should be familiar with the types of favoritism that are being practiced, so that the company can develop effective policies to combat them. Eradicating favoritism is not difficult if the management has determination to clean the organization from immoral activities and has a political will to exempt no one whether it is a family or friends.  

Favoritism is considered discrimination and discrimination is illegal and immoral. Discrimination happens when employers make job decisions based on employees' protected characteristics -- traits that state, governments have decided should not be the basis of employment actions. Under employment laws or labor laws, for example, it's illegal for employers not to hire someone because of his race, to refuse to promote women, to relegate employees with disabilities to low-paying positions, or to lay off employees based on age. If workplace favoritism is based on protected characteristics, then it is illegal discrimination. For example, if a manager promotes only men or gives the best assignments and shifts to employees who share his religious beliefs, that would be discrimination. 

Favoritism is a poison to employee morale. It creates terrible feelings toward the management and towards the employees who are treated special. Hatred can cause not only sickness but also the mood of employees in carrying out their duties and responsibilities every day. Certainly such emotional condition affects the performance of their duties. Thus favoritism does not benefit anyone in the organization but it destroys everything. Employees might be professional, qualified and experienced, but they’re still human and still susceptible to emotions better left outside the workplace. Jealousy, anger, fear, sullenness and worry can occur in business environments at any time, but these negative emotions are exacerbated when favoritism takes place. Therefore management should be careful in playing favoritism.  Before indulging in workplace favoritism, consider how your actions might affect other workers. 

Employee Favoritism and Nepotism is considered employees morale Cancer (Chris Young, 2008). It is considered cancer because it causes the sickness of the workplace environment and finally seriously erodes the competitive position of a company or at worst - literally destroys the potential of companies. The cure of cancer can only happen only if the root of the cancer is removed totally.  

Different Kind of favoritism in the Workplace

George N. Root (2014) identified several kind of favoritism in the workplace and these are nepotism, cronyism, sexual favors and patronage. He explained that nepotism is the practice of hiring family members regardless of their qualifications. In some cases, a relative of a company executive may be qualified to perform the job for which she is hired. The fact that she is an executive's relative gives her an advantage over the other applicants. According to him, hiring should always be based on the qualification and the need of the particular job. In this case, even though the person or the newly hired employee is related to the executive but if her/his qualification is very much needed, then nepotism can enhance the company’s performance. However if the hiring is just because of family relationship and ignoring the qualifications, then nepotism can cause the decline of the company.     

Cronyism is the other side of nepotism. It is the act of hiring friends regardless of qualifications. One of the main problems with cronyism is the feeling of entitlement that employees hired under these circumstances feel. Because of their close relationship to the top executive, they feel they deserve raises and promotions that should be reserved for more qualified staff members. Besides feeling of entitlement, these groups feel powerful and can influence other people in the organization and top executive. These groups are feared by other group and may create conflict in the workplace and can result in losing qualified personnel.

Favoritism may be caused by sexual favor. Sexual favor forces the executive to prioritize the person for career advancement even though the person is not qualified for the promotion. The person who is favored may claim anything she wants and the executive has no choice to grant her request. Such treatment can cause discrimination against other employees. The employees who are denied promotions and raises in lieu of sexual favors being exchanged between a manager and employee can claim that they were discriminated against. Companies should discourage inter-office relationships, and should consider a policy that makes relationships between managers and subordinates grounds for termination.

Other form of favoritism is patronage. Patronage becomes a practice in which an executive or manager engage in nepotism or cronyism. An executive promotes employees he trusts into positions of management, and then asks those managers to hire their friends and family members. This kind of favoritism has the potential to spread throughout the company as the executive brings more of her favorite employees into positions of authority.
To add to the list offered by George N. Root, Christ Young (2008) based on his experience working with certain company offers several form  of favoritism and nepotism: relative nepotism, friend nepotism, connection nepotism, contribution nepotism, referral nepotism, they were with us through thick and thin" nepotism, "credential nepotism.
Relative nepotism is a common practice everywhere to hire, save, prioritize and promote the relative first before anyone else. While friend nepotism is a management behavior that is giving special attention to friends. They are considered “inner circle of influence” to the management and they are the priority of the management. Connection nepotism is a practice to give a special treatment to persons who have connection with the management, be it political connection, sports activity/hobby connection, and many others. It may seem to be unimportant but often time such connection influences management for special treatment. Contribution nepotism refers to the practice in which management gives a special treatment to persons who have contributed something to the achievement of the management. While this practice may not be totally bad but it should always consider the total whole. The performance of the management is a contribution of all people working for the organization because all works are interrelated. Thus evaluation to the level of contribution must be done to determine how much each one has contributed to the organization. Referral nepotism is a practice in which a management is asking top performer if he/she knows someone to fill up the position. This may be considered a ordinary recruitment strategy but there is a tendency of management to prioritize more on these persons than to others. “They were with us through thick and thin" nepotism” This form of nepotism is particularly perverse.  A team member who has been with the company since it started 15 years ago can wreak a lot of havoc if they are poor performers.  The havoc comes from new performers who realize the "lifer" is "special" and is not being held to the same employee accountability standard that they are.  The next question new hires has is, "Why am I not special."  The downward spiral begins - employee morale goes into the tank. Lastly credential nepotism is This form of nepotism is often hidden but dangerous.  Ever seen someone get more credit than they deserve because they have a certification?  I have.  When people are given more credit because they attended a class and passed it but cannot apply what they learned - we call that "Credential Nepotism.
All of the above forms of nepotism result in a hideous employee morale killer called "favoritism. These form of favoritism cause the life of the organization to danger. Therefore, such favoritism must be avoided at all cost.    

The Effect of Favoritism

Favoritism is considered negative because of its effect not only to the organization but also to the other employees. The following are considered to be the effect of favoritism in the workplace. 

1.      Decline company performance
When the employees are hired because of family relationship, friendship and not because of certain skill qualifications and then not being able to perform the job, then nepotism becomes counter-productive. And if the executive staff begins hiring family members because they need jobs, not because of their qualifications and ability, and then such practices can affect the company's profitability or performance. Therefore, the top management should consider skill qualifications in hiring and not favoritism.    
2.      Resentment and demoralization.

Favoritism is not going to rest well with other employees. One of the primary effects of workplace favoritism on employees is resentment. Workers feel that, no matter how hard they work, it won’t matter because preferred employees will always get better benefits, more attention and greater opportunities. Such situation can demotivate other employees to do their job to the best they can. They feel not recognized and appreciated. They feel bad and discouraged. Not only that, employees often resent the special worker, treating her with unkindness and gossiping about reasons for preferential treatment. Workers also resent their employer, becoming less willing to participate actively in the company mission. If employees feel that they’re being passed over for new responsibilities or promotions because all goodies are funneled toward favorite workers, lower motivation results. Employees slack off, taking less care with assigned duties and being more reluctant to volunteer for additional tasks. This results in lower productivity, missed deadlines and lower overall morale.
3.      Organizational Conflict
When employees perceive the favoritism to be widespread, such situation may lead to organizational conflict. It would not only be conflict between other employees and favored employees but also with the executive or management and employees. If such situation happens, then working environment becoming not conducive  for other people to work.    The situation may lead to some employees take legal action against employers who engage in egregious favoritism, citing preferential treatment based on gender or ethnicity. If workplace favoritism is widespread, for example, an employer offers preferential treatment to workers based on sexual favors, employees could cite a hostile work environment. This can lead to serious repercussions, including court fees, restitution awards and loss of professional reputation.
Avoiding favoritism
As we see the effect of favoritism, it is obvious that favoritism does not bring any good to the organization. Therefore, there is no way of perpetuating it but it should be stopped by all means. Displays of favoritism, or even its perception, can destroy relationships, initiative and trust. We must always be alert to its presence and suppress it. Therefore we should always avoid promoting favoritism by all means such as  spending extra time with preferred workers, overlooking mistakes made by favorite employees and assigning perks to employees because you like them. If you’re an employee working in an environment where a boss is practicing favoritism, double-check your impressions by looking for specific examples of preferred treatment. Once you’ve confirmed that this is a problem in your workplace, visit the personnel department with your examples. Explaining the situation in a concise, professional way gives you more credibility; be careful not to make rash accusations.
It is recommended that the organization should introduce or establish a policy prohibiting favoritism in the workplace. The organization should specify practices that are considered favoritism and indicate punishment related to favoritism practices. 
Handling Favoritism at Work
The question here is how we react to favoritism in the workplace. Since favoritism is committed by the executive, this question is addressed to the employees. How do co-employees handle favoritism? How do you keep your career humming along while you're stuck in the shadow of the boss's pet?  Eileen P. Gunn (2008) gives some tips how to handle the favoritism as he cited from Birkel (2008). It would be nice to follow those advises.
1. Don't try to shoot down the favorite, no matter how tempting it might be to correct him in meetings or point out to the boss when he's way under qualified for that project you wanted, Birkel advises. At best, you're picking on the boss's buddy; at worst, you're questioning the boss's judgment about people. Neither one is going to gain you any ground.
2. Sit down with that boss as soon as possible and agree to a clear job description for you, Birkel says. To make the boss's job easier, have one at the ready for him or her to give feedback on.
3. Agree on some goals for you to accomplish over the next quarter or six months or year (or a combination of time frames). Make sure at least a few of them can be measured objectively—hitting sales or profit or cost-cutting targets, landing certain clients, or getting trained in particular new skills.
Hitting these goals gives you material you can use should you need to campaign for a promotion, project, or raise you want that you believe the boss is inclined to hand to one of the in-crowd.  It also gives you the means with which to defend yourself should one of the inner circles try to undermine you someday (if, say, he really wants that same promotion, project, or raise).
4. Find a champion who's at the same or higher level than your fickle manager and who can talk you up and suggest you for that plum assignment or title you want. If other people in the organization think highly of you, then it makes your boss look good to put you to good use in a visible way.
5. Get involved in the company beyond your immediate group by joining corporate committees or employee groups or lending your experience to colleagues in other departments when they ask for it. This will help you find that champion you need, boost your credibility beyond your boss's purview, and maybe lead to new opportunities with a better boss.
6. Buddy up to the boss where you can (taking care to keep your self-respect in the process). If you're at all interested in his or her favorite sport or hobby, give it a try so that you have something other than work to talk about when you find yourself sharing an elevator with the boss.
And when that boss does occasionally extend an invitation to lunch or drinks or Saturday golf to colleagues beyond a little clique, by all means, go! It's an opportunity to help the boss get to know you and see possibilities beyond the usual safe fallback people
Of course, despite your best efforts, your career progress could slow down or flat-out stall during this manager's tenure. If you can't live with that, even for a short spell, then polish up your résumé and start looking for a new job, inside your company or elsewhere.
But if you do decide to sit tight and bide your time, take it to heart. "It's not a question of if but when that manager will be moved along or pushed out in the next reshuffling," Birkel says. "Then those favorites are back on equal footing with everyone else." If they can't settle in and thrive on their merits, they'll either follow their benefactor yet again or move on in some other way.
Favoritism is an Ethical Issue/Moral Issue.
Favoritism is a moral issue. It is a moral issue because it violates basic moral standards which are justice and fairness. Moral standards dictate to do justice and to be fair to all. Definitely favoritism violates such principles. Aristotle argued that “equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally. In relation to employment practices, it tells us that employees who possess the same qualification and perform the same or similar responsibilities should be treated the same. Favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism all interfere with fairness because they give undue advantage to someone who does not necessarily merit this treatment (Judy Nadler and Miriam Schulman, 2006).
Favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism also undermine the common good. Under utilitarian ethics, the rule is that you can act only the act that promotes happiness of the greater majority or the common good. The message of individual sacrifice is emphasized. Each person should promote only those act that will contribute to common good but not to individual interest. The practice of favoritism is against such principle. When someone is granted a position because of connections rather than because he or she has the best credentials and experience, is considered individual preferential treatment which will lead to the disadvantage of the organization or common good.  
Favoritism is a preferential treatment to a certain employees or groups of employees. Such definition  is a clear indication of discrimination. It destroys the moral and motivation of employees to work. Definitely favoritism is bad and immoral. The effect of favoritism is devastating, not only to the life of individual employees but to the life of the organization. It loses its competitiveness power against other competitors and it will lead to its bankruptcy. Thus it must be avoided by all cost.    
George N. Root III. 2014. Demand Media.  (http://smallbusiness.chron.com/types-favoritism-workplace-11537.html), date retrieved, Feb, 21, 2014
Judy Nadler and Miriam Schulman.  2006. Favoritism, Cronyism, and Nepotism. Santa Clara University. http://www.scu.edu/ethics/practicing/focusareas/government_ethics/introduction/cronyism.html



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