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Dealing with Favoritism in the Workplace

Have you had to face favoritism at your office in the past? If you’ve been a member of the workforce for at least a few years, your answer is probably, “Yes.” How have you dealt with this potential employee relations disaster? Has it helped your career at all?

Even being the “favorite” can be uncomfortable for you and your co-workers. Functioning outside the favorite circle is typically frustrating and depressing. When favoritism also involves nepotism, it can be infuriating. Control yourself—all is not lost.

Recent Survey Indicates Favoritism Is Alive and Well

Georgetown University recently completed a meaningful survey that returned interesting responses. Over 50 percent of executives responding admitted that they had at least one favorite in mind for inter-company promotions. Tellingly, 96 percent of these executives reported that they gave the promotion to their pre-identified favorite.

More potentially troubling, 92 percent of these executives admitted that favoritism is alive and functioning in larger organizations. Interestingly, these same executives (83 percent of them) stated that favoritism led generally led to unsatisfactory promotion decisions, even if they made these choices. However, only 23 percent of these executives admitted that they personally made favorite decisions. Interesting, don’t you think?

The bottom line remains: Favoritism is alive and well in the current workplace. Even those who express displeasure with its existence, apparently participate in the practice, whether they are willing to admit it or not.

As all personal, professional and athletic coaches will tell you, it’s not about whether you will deal with adversity, it’s all about how you handle it that defines you as a person. The favoritism “factor” is a good example of this advice. It’s not whether you face favoritism; you will. It’s all about how you handle it to hurt or help your career.

How to Handle Favoritism

When facing favoritism, particularly if it involves nepotism (the boss’s son, daughter, nephew, niece, grandchild, or godchild), you could always call “two guys named Vinnie with baseball bats” to visit your boss. However, in civilized business this is typically an unwise idea.

Understand that favoritism in the workplace poses challenges to most employers, straining their efforts with positive employee relations. Unfortunately, there is little data to indicate that favoritism will likely disappear in the foreseeable future. Fortunately, there are ways you can handle this condition to advance your career.

Be aware of the psychology. Even the most successful managers are influenced by early childhood environments. If your manager was a favored child, he/she grew to be confident in their decision making, unafraid of obstacles, and, often, a high achiever in school and work situations. If you achieve “favorite” status, you will typically enjoy the decisions of your supervisor. Should you fall on the “overlooked” list, you will suffer disappointment and discouragement. Understand that you cannot change this psychology, perfected over decades of reinforcement.

Understand the “overlooked” reality. Regardless of your boss’s childhood environment, you may fall into the dreaded overlooked category of the world of promotions. Whether you or your manager occupied this netherworld, you can take actions that may move you from the overlooked to the favored employee realm.

  • Never assume you will be noticed or rewarded for superior performance. Step up and “remind” your superiors of your accomplishments. Do not be boastful. Simply “remind” co-workers and superiors, tastefully, of your current or recent past successes.

  • Take credit for documented workplace achievements. Do not be overly humble to cloud or diffuse your personal accomplishments. Supervisors, who apparently overlook your achievements, may not do so intentionally. Without appearing cocky, gently remind, when appropriate, others that accomplishments were yours.

Turn unfavored status into “career gold.” Discard your natural bitterness, suspicion or skepticism. Never assume your outstanding success at the workplace will be unappreciated. Even if you harbor resentment feelings as an unfavored child, refuse to carry them forward to the workplace or your career. Achieve and prosper. Push yourself and adopt “outside the box” effort and/or ideas.

All is not lost. There is favorable employee relations news. While sweet-talking (what formerly was called “brown nosing”) your supervisor is usually a bad idea, as it’s typically transparent, maintaining high performance usually translates to morphing your current status into the “favorite” designation.

While combating nepotism may be an exercise in futility, most workplace favorites earned their position by delivering outstanding performance on the job. Do you want to become a favorite? Go the extra mile at your office, become more valuable than your job description requires. Learn, practice and become more valuable than your manager expected. You will overcome favoritism or become one of the favored candidates for promotions that accelerate your career.


© 2014 Kelly Services, Inc.