Steps for Dealing With Favoritism in the Workplace

Favoritism happens. Some people just click better. But when it happens in the workplace—and better assignments, praise, promotions, even raises don’t seem to line up with merit—it can be extremely frustrating (especially if you’re not the favorite). It can damage morale. It can cause people to leave a company.

A salesperson resigned abruptly from a job she had held for several years. Her exit interview pointed to her boss’s favoritism in project assignments as one cause of her decision to leave. After her departure, the HR director spoke with the manager. The manager was surprised by the accusation. The employee had never mentioned her concerns, and the manager sincerely believed she assigned projects as objectively as possible within a series of given constraints.

Leaving a company is definitely a way to get your point across—you won’t tolerate favoritism. But, in this particular case, perhaps the employee should have taken some steps prior to resigning—steps that could have cleared up the issue or at least given voice to her concerns.

Some advice from a few business coaches:

Step back and objectively assess. Don’t take it personally, suggests Michele Towers of Strong Tower Coaching. It’s not about you, but rather about the other person. If you can take a step back, you’ll be better able to objectively assess the situation, agrees James Stith of Blue Phoenix.

  • Co-workers watching businesspeople having meeting in conference roomIs the favoritism warranted? In assessing, first ask yourself this question. Is the person who’s getting more responsibility actually doing a better job? If so, you may need to step up your game.
  • Do you have a good relationship with your boss? Stith also reminds that it’s normal and appropriate to have a personal relationship with people you work with. If you don’t feel you have a strong relationship with your boss, work to improve it. (Sure, this is partially your boss’s responsibility, but if you haven’t taken the time to speak casually, he or she may assume you’re not interested.) Stith suggests setting an initial goal of talking with your boss once a week about something that is not work related. Also, be more assertive about the assignments you’re given—speak up respectfully about what you’d like to be doing.
  • How does your boss view your work? If you don’t feel the favoritism is warranted and you do believe someone is using a personal relationship to take advantage, you may be dealing with a boss who is unable to set boundaries. Pointing fingers at your boss is probably not going to get you anywhere. What you need is a clear picture of how your boss views your work. If you’re not sure, suggest a quick meeting. Be prepared with examples of the outstanding work you’ve done. The conclusion of this meeting would be a good time to talk about greater responsibility and the type of assignments you’d like to be getting.
  • Will the situation improve? You’ve assessed the situation: you’re doing your best work, your relationship with our boss is improving, your boss says he likes your work, but the yes-man still seems to be getting preferential treatment, you’ll ultimately be faced with the decision of whether to stay with your organization.

Workplace favoritism might be a sign of bad management. Or it might be a sign that you need to step up your game. Take time to assess the situation objectively. Then take steps to up your own game … or move on.

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