favoritism at work can be risky

Managers playing favorites has been happening in the workplace for decades. Here is what you need to know both as a manager and an employee to prevent this from happening.

  • Favoritism : noun,  fa·vor·it·ism – The unfair practice of treating some people better than others.

The act of intentionally choosing one person over another comes with it a host of considerations managers should be aware of – especially to avoid a backlash of support from their people and avoid the label of playing favorites or favoritism.

Favoritism can be fairly benign in some situations, but in others it can create a hostile environment where you risk fostering a culture of absenteeism and ultimately attrition. By not treating everyone fairly and focusing too much attention on certain employees, you leave yourself exposed to overlooking growth opportunities and key skill sets others on the team may possess.

In the office setting, this typically takes the form of a manager naturally gravitating towards someone on their team. It could be because that person performs the best, your personalities mesh well or the fact that the employee has worked their way into your good graces. Whatever the cause for favoritism may be, it can be frustrating for others on your team wondering why they weren’t picked, chosen or provided a certain opportunity. Your role as a manager of people is to remember that favoritism – although sometimes intentional, is always concerning to the others on the team.

Some of the most common culprits of favoritism include:

  • Bonus, promotion & salary
  • Turning a blind eye towards specific workplace conduct
  • Poor or subpar work deliverables
  • Hiring talent

Managers who play favorites create a “lose-lose” environment where not only the morale of your employees diminishes but you disrupt the overall team dynamics, productivity and ultimately the broader organizations culture. So what can you do?

For Managers:

Be mindful of your actions (both verbal and otherwise) and ensure that people on your team don’t portray you as playing favorites. Here are a few tips:

  • Watch your belief around people you brought in and hired versus 
    people inherited.
  • Avoid looking for the all to easy commonalities such as – they remind you of yourself in some fashion; you share the same gender, ethnicity, politics, religion, age, hometown, taste in music etc….
  • You have an over achiever on your team who is always at the ready and it’s easy for you to delegate to that individual.
  • Be mindful of who you give assignments to.
  • Make sure you include all people and parties in any type of celebration or acknowledgement of a job well done.


For Employees:

Before you go rounding up the posse, first find out if the “perceived” favoritism is justified. Meaning, if someone is getting a promotion or extra projects – find out why and engage with your manager. Here are a few tips:

  • If you determine that you jumped the mark, discuss your career path and options on how you can develop your job readiness. Maybe you need more education? More experience amongst other teams? More managerial exposure? 
  • Take the opportunity to be front and center with your manager and provide some highlights and a real time update both on your current work stream but also be bold in setting up recurring weekly one-to-ones if you don’t have them already scheduled. Don’t assume they know.


Final thoughts:

As an employee, be proactive and pay attention to your managers needs. Sometimes they may need some support that they can’t see or readily identify. Take the opportunity to offer your assistance as this may be a great learning opportunity.

As a manager, remember that it’s not only okay to recognize your hi-performers for a job well done but necessary to retain top talent and create a high performing team. Just make sure to be able to explain or justify your actions should one of your employee’s engage you with a question regarding your choice and their perceived fairness.

There’s a fine line between favoritism and fairness and part of your job (as a manager or employee) is to know where it is, and how to navigate it.

The floor is your: Have you ever experienced favoritism and if so, what was your experience?

Please leave your comment below as your insights are greatly appreciated and a learning opportunity for everyone reading this article. #OutsideWork

With leadership,

Please click ‘Follow’ if you would like to hear more from me in the future.