What do you know about favoritism? Did you know it is one the top reasons why employees quit their jobs? And did you know that favoritism causes employees to become disgruntled and unproductive?
As an HR professional with nearly 20 years of experience, I have seen it first-hand, even from before I was in HR. I can tell you that favoritism is a corporate culture killer. It upsets employees, can make them feel alone, useless, and undervalued, and may even cause them to quit and, in some cases, sue!
Most of us do favors for friends, but the difference is when those favors are abused and cause harm to others. For instance, an owner hiring a friend is a favor, but when that owner hires a friend rather than promoting an incumbent employee who is more qualified and deserving, then that becomes favoritism because that friend is receiving special consideration and treatment based on their relationship with the owner and not their own merit. When that happens, the overlooked employee becomes disengaged.
Favoritism comes in many forms. It can be as innocent as simply referring someone for a job or as malicious as sexual harassment or discrimination. An employee who is hired through favoritism and feels that they can say and do anything because “someone in high places” has their back is dangerous. And if that person decides to harass a fellow worker or discriminate, now that version of favoritism becomes illegal.
Most companies have a policy against dating co-workers, especially if one person reports to the other, and the reason is simple: workplace romances can quickly lead to poor decision making. When employees hear about personal relationships within management and leadership roles, they may feel that they cannot speak out for fear of retaliation. This can have a negative impact and lead to claims of unfair treatment.
Companies who have hiring preferences must be careful as well. Only hiring from your alma mater, professional associations, peer group, circle of friends, religious group, nationality, or gender can be seen as both favoritism and discrimination. It’s a slippery slope.
Organizations should have an ombudsperson, an unbiased mediator on staff, or a designated person or department employees can go to without fear of retaliation or of being handled or spun, to voice their opinions and complaints. Human Resources is supposed to be that department. However, HR’s role is to protect the company, and sometimes even that department gets compromised by favoritism and close internal relationships. The EEOC is overrun with cases of misconduct that HR has allowed or has even been an active participant in.
Personally, I have encountered several instances in which someone has asked me how can they complain about a bad manager who plays favorites if that manager is friends with HR.
Have you encountered favoritism in your workplace?
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