What Is Favouritism at Work? (And Its Effects at Work)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 17 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Favouritism is a typically unwelcome feature of the workplace due to its impact on career progression and company morale. Despite this, there are positive ways of reinforcing a teamwork environment and ensuring that each member of staff receives praise for hard work. Understanding how to address and combat favouritism in the workplace can help you establish healthier boundaries and improve your relationship with your colleagues. In this article, we discuss what favouritism at work is, explore why it can be problematic, outline how to address it and explain how to prevent further acts of favouritism.

What is favouritism at work?

Favouritism at work is when a colleague, typically one in a position of power like a manager, has a relatively inappropriate bias towards one colleague over other colleagues. As a favoured member of staff, this colleague may receive more workplace benefits than the other colleagues. Although workplace favouritism is not typically the result of malicious intent and usually due to a heightened bond or friendship, it can have serious implications for both the colleague being favoured and the other colleagues. A favourite employee may receive little to no consequences for not abiding by company policies and may receive unwarranted rewards like gifts or praise.

Workplace favouritism typically forms from having a poor awareness of professional boundaries and the inability to separate work from personal life. Although friendships may be an inevitability in the workplace, allowing them to interfere with workplace politics can be destructive. Staying focused on your self-worth and career goals can help you maintain professional relationships and understand how to set healthy boundaries between you and your manager.

Related: Self-Worth in the Workplace

Effects of favouritism

Although receiving more workplace benefits may seem like a positive thing, it can have a detrimental effect on your relationships with your colleagues and your career progression. Here are some of the negative side-effects of favouritism:

Loss of company integrity

Many companies pride themselves on honesty and integrity and often seek candidates who uphold their values. If favouritism becomes commonplace in a business, a business can quickly lose its integrity. This may have a negative impact on the business if their networks take notice of this. Companies may lose clients, see a decrease in customers and potential candidates, and may also see a reduction in their current staff.

Lower productivity rate

If your colleagues notice favouritism in the workplace, their inclination to continue to produce high-quality work might significantly decrease. This can typically lead to a declining productivity rate and poor performance. This situation often occurs when employees feel as if their work is not being appreciated or respected the same as other employees. If you feel as if one of your colleagues is being treated better than others, try to stay focused on your career goals and personal ambitions, remembering why you first applied for the job.

Tension

Workplace favouritism can cause rifts in your colleague's relationships. If you're the favoured colleague, there may be potential for your colleagues to think negatively about you or your manager. If you're the one having negative feelings about a colleague for being favoured, this is a normal response, but try to consider that this may not be their fault and is typically due to a lack of responsibility from the manager.

Loss of opportunity

Managers may try and showcase their leadership skills by putting candidates forward for promotions or roles they're not ready for. This can lead to the loss of future opportunities or roles that do align with their career goals. Consider reflecting on any opportunities offered to you and think about whether they benefit you. Have constructive conversations with your manager about how they think the opportunity benefits you and contributes toward your career progression.

Lower job satisfaction

If you feel as if your manager is stifling your career by favouring your colleague, you may feel less satisfied at work. Even if you're the one being favoured, you may still feel less satisfied in your role as you might experience more breakdowns in communication with your colleagues. In either of these cases, try to stay focused on your short-term career goals and consider getting involved with other work projects to provide some purpose.

Related: 5 Conflict Resolution Strategies for the Workplace

What favouritism looks like

Favouritism can start in different ways and progress to more extreme displays after time. Below are some signs of favouritism in the workplace:

Additional praise

If you or a colleague receives excessive or additional praise for something you or they don't deserve, this may be an early sign of favouritism. This is problematic, as it can create divides between colleagues. Ensure that you highlight your colleagues' work towards a project or task, so your manager credits everyone for their hard work.

Gifts

Gifts during special occasions, like birthdays or holidays, are typically appropriate. Receiving a gift or reward for completing a task and noticing that you or your colleagues received nothing may be a sign of favouritism. This may not be something extravagant and could present itself as simple gestures, like your manager supplying lunch to only one member of the team.

Promotions

Unwarranted career progression or offering opportunities to only one member of the team is a substantial example of favouritism. Biased promotions may damage you and your manager's reputation. Consider taking a chance to consider a promotion before acceptance, asking yourself whether you have earned or are ready for the role.

Unprofessional conversations

Unprofessional conversations such as discussing another colleague's lack of progress compared to yours, or discrediting team members in favour of your work, may be a sign of damaging favouritism. Ensure that you set healthy boundaries in these scenarios and avoid contributing to them. You may wish to stand up for your team members and offer an alternative view for your manager to consider.

How to talk about favouritism

Addressing favouritism is a priority and can help improve your workplace relationships. Below is a step-by-step guide to talking about favouritism at work:

1. Talk to your manager or senior leadership

Human resource (HR) professionals are typically the best people to talk to about a potential case of favouritism. They can guide you on how to respond to and ease any tensions across your team because of favouritism. They may also speak with your manager for you and help establish team-wide appreciation.

2. Try not to gossip

Consider staying away from opportunities to gossip about displays of favouritism. This may turn into a wider HR issue and could cause disciplinary action against you and your colleagues. Instead of this, try to spark a healthy conversation with your other colleagues and check in with them about how they're feeling and whether they feel appreciated at work.

3. Have an open conversation more than once

If it feels as if there's been no action and behaviours aren't changing, don't hesitate to revisit the topic in multiple meetings. This shows a commitment to standing up for your team, whether you're the target of favouritism, or your colleague. This is an impressive leadership quality and senior leadership teams may appreciate your tenacity.

Related: Why Interpersonal Communication is So Important at Work

How to prevent favouritism

Preventing favouritism is a good way to maintain healthy relationships and stay focused on your career goals at work. Below is a guide to preventing favouritism and promoting teamwork at a company:

1. Engage your colleagues with other projects

Whether you experienced favouritism or were a witness to it, you may get your team members engaged with any project management opportunities across your team. Doing this gives each of you an opportunity to showcase your individual skills and contribution, providing your manager with more reason to praise your efforts. You may find more career progression opportunities by getting involved with projects and management opportunities, as they allow you to develop key leadership skills like task delegation, time management and collaborative working.

2. Ensure you give credit to your team and praise them to senior members

A good way of establishing balance is advocating for your team to senior members of the business. This may consist of presenting your team's work to managers across the business, or having one-to-one conversations, explaining how you think your manager can reward your team for their hard work. This is a good quality to have and shows integrity and a collaborative mindset that's valuable to employers.

Related: How to Build Relationships for Career Success

3. Have professional conversations

Professional conversations are a good way to develop healthy boundaries at work. Keeping conversations professional involves not delving too much into your or your colleagues' personal life, keeping any personal circumstances to yourself, and avoiding negative language or having inappropriate conversations about other colleagues. Professional conversations give you and your managers a clear indication of your boundaries and how to respect them. This avoids managers becoming overly friendly and favouring you or other colleagues.

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