How to Hide Favoritism in the Workplace

By Joe Issid


Like parents, a manager will never admit to having a favorite. But unlike parents, nearly every manager does actually have someone on his/her team who is the recipient of preferential treatment. The reasons for this type of favoritism are virtually limitless and anyone who has worked for a boss who played favorites can attest to this. Personally, I have worked for managers who favored employees who supported the same sports team or who commuted to work on the same train. I've even worked for a manager who was having an extra-marital affair with one of his subordinates (which was made all the more evident by the favorable treatment extended towards that particular employee).

No matter the reason, these types of behaviors are inevitable and will almost certainly be part of your work life at one time or another. As a manager, I have surely been guilty of this myself and fully admit that it is very difficult to remain entirely objective; disassociating one's own feelings from the decision-making process can be extremely challenging. Rather than trying to eliminate this behavior entirely, however, I feel that it is more realistic to find ways to limit the impact of favoritism on your staff. Here are some ways to try and remain balanced in your decision-making:


Remain neutral

Becoming personally attached to your colleagues is inevitable given the amount of time you spend working side by side. However, as a manager, you need to work especially hard to ensure you do not grow too close to any specific individual on your team. It is inevitable that you will have more in common with certain team members than others and this often leads to the development of closer personal ties. And, of course, it is only natural to gravitate towards those with whom you share a specific set of ideals. Nevertheless, good managers recognise this swelling emotional bond and will work to safeguard against this influencing any future decisions. Remaining neutral and impartial emotionally is something a good manger will learn to do over time.


Check your prejudice

Whether you care to admit it or not, we are all guilty of behaving prejudicially. In some cases, our prejudices can be very strong and can interfere in our professional lives. Personally, I've encountered managers who discriminated against certain types of candidates during a hiring process. In other cases, our prejudices can be very subtle but can still infiltrate our decision-making abilities. For instance, I was the favored employee of a former boss because we are both of Middle Eastern descent. And you can be sure that I consciously leveraged this commonality as a means of benefiting my career. As a manager, however, I have worked extremely hard to identify my prejudices and have made a very conscious effort to reduce the impact they have on me and my team.


Spread the work

It is natural to want to give your most challenging projects to your most capable employees. (And let's face it, every manager knows who his top performers are). On the surface, choosing one employee over another based on competence is how most decisions should be made in the workplace but can still be perceived as some form of favoritism. While I don't personally subscribe to this notion, I have seen some employees become increasingly frustrated and discouraged when they are not assigned the most interesting and challenging work. If you are concerned that this may be impacting your team, try to distribute work equally across your team and allow all team members to feel as though they are being given every opportunity to perform at their highest level.


Don't fear scrutiny

At the end of the day, you need to make decisions that are in the best interest of your organisation. If this requires you to promote or to otherwise favor one employee over another, then so be it. You are being paid to make these types of decisions so don't shy away from them out of fear of how they are going to be perceived. Having said that, you need to make sure that the decisions you are making are defensible and are truly in the best interest of the company.