Are You Playing Favorites at Work?

If Employees Perceive Favoritism, It Can Disrupt Productivity and Morale.

A survey conducted by Georgetown University found that 92 percent of senior business executives have seen favoritism at play in employee promotions, including at their own companies (84 percent). About a quarter of the polled execs admitted to practicing favoritism themselves.

It does not take long, after you have worked for a company for awhile, to notice that certain people seem to get more attention from the boss. That attention can take different forms, from blatant pay differences to more subtle things like inclusion in meetings. Aside from the legal implications for the company, there are a few things that leaders should keep in mind about favoritism in the workplace:

Toxic to morale. If your employees see that promotions, pay raises and advancement opportunities are given to certain people because of things other than performance, it can cause problems. Employees who work very hard and do everything to advance see that one of their peers gets moved ahead of them because of things like friendships and nepotism, their attitude and morale will dip.

Why would someone continue to work hard when it really does not matter? These kinds of situations erode a leader’s credibility and more often than not the leader is not even aware of it. The company grapevine and gossip certainly are aware of it. High turnover of good employees is often an indicator of favoritism.

Company performance takes a hit. When employees are advanced for reasons not tied to performance, key metrics of company performance will be negatively affected. When friendships and patronage become the key determinants in who gets promoted, the bottom line will reflect it.

Conflict. Employees that feel they are not being treated fairly will not only have drops in morale, conflict may occur because of what they perceive. That conflict can be between the favored one and other employees or between you and the employees who feel left out. This is a tough one to get to the root cause of because conflict arises for so many reasons.

Some suggestions:

Clear and concise reasons. It makes sense that as a leader you give your tough assignments to your high performers. Doing that not only increases the odds that the assignment will be done well, it also signals to the high performer that you recognize their effort and want more of it. Without clearly letting everyone know the business reasons you are delegating to someone, other employees may think you are playing favorites. Let everyone know, however you can, that the reason you are passing a particular assignment to someone is because of their outstanding performance.

Watch your time. In today’s world, time is at a premium for everyone. Everyone is busy. It is natural for leaders to not only pass tough assignments to high performers, but also to spend time with them checking on progress and coaching them. Let’s face it: high performers are just more fun to be around.

Keep in mind the perceptions you may be creating, though. A well-rounded leader is one who finds time for all members of his/her team. Every employee, regardless of their performance level, needs to participate in goal setting, receive consistent feedback and coaching, and get a pat on the back for a job well done. Leaders understand that their job is to help everyone improve, not just the high potential employees.

Plum assignments. Some of your employees will want to have some of the same assignments that you are giving to your high performers. They feel like they can do it just as well, and you need to give them a chance to show you what they can do.

In that sense, you owe it to those employees to sit down with them and set some goals that will get them to a point of being able to take on the tough assignments. If, through your collaborative goal setting and coaching, they show they can handle the tough stuff, both parties win. If they cannot step up, you both have some insight also.

Going to the well over and over with your top performers is a natural part of being a leader. There are times, however, that you need to take a timeout and check to see what the impact is on other employees. It is all about openness and fairness.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].

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