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8 Tips Managers Can Use to Avoid Favoritism With Employees - HRDQ

8 Tips Managers Can Use to Avoid Favoritism With Employees

As a manager, there's a good chance that you naturally get along with some of your employees better than others. For example, you might find that some of your direct reports share some of your interests and beliefs, making it easier to connect and interact with them than with those you don't have anything in common.

However, one essential leadership skill is ensuring you aren't playing favorites in the workplace. Not only is this unfair and, in some instances, illegal, but it's also unwise.

Favoritism in the workplace can increase resentment and turnover while decreasing motivation, productivity, and respect for company leadership. 

What are the best ways to avoid favoritism in the workplace? How can you ensure that you're treating your employees fairly?

What Is Favoritism in the Workplace?

When an individual in a leadership position gives one person preferential treatment over other employees for reasons unrelated to performance, it's known as favoritism in the workplace.

Favoritism with Employee

This favor might result in an employee receiving more promotions or advanced projects than other people that are more qualified. Similarly, they might not face the same repercussions as other employees for infractions such as missing deadlines or repeatedly showing up late.

Identify your leadership style, as well as areas for potential improvement: What's My Leadership Style

Why Should You Avoid Favoritism With Employees?

Favoritism in the workplace might seem harmless, but it can have some seriously adverse effects.

Workplace Favoritism

To work to overcome favoritism, it's essential to understand the extent to which it can harm your organization over time.

Increasing Feelings of Resentment

If your employees are frequently noticing you showing favoritism towards a specific person, there's a good chance that feelings of resentment will start to grow.

Feelings of Resentment

This resentment isn't just felt toward you, the manager, but also their coworker. 

Learning how to see and approach things through the lens of others is crucial in these circumstances: Emotional Intelligence Skills Assessment

Decreasing Productivity and Motivation

Favoritism can also take a toll on productivity and motivation. If one of your employees feels like their work is always going unnoticed even though others are continuously receiving special perks and praise, they'll likely start to lose motivation for the job.

Decreasing Employee Motivation

This type of tension in the office can make it difficult to focus, and the employee might not see the point in putting in their usual amount of effort because their work doesn't receive recognition anyway.

Frequent Employee Turnover

One of the most significant disadvantages of showing favoritism in the workplace is that it can increase the rate of employee turnover. When a person feels like they don't have the option to move up in the company or aren't appreciated, they're more likely to look for another job elsewhere.

High employee turnover can have numerous negative repercussions for a company.

Employee Resignation

For one, it can lead to low morale in the workplace.

Not only can it mean that employees are overworked because of a frequent lack of trained or active coworkers, but seeing their colleagues frequently leave for greener pastures can encourage others to look for new jobs.

Secondly, it can also seriously impact the quality of your company's product or service.

If you constantly have to hire new people, the entire flow of the workplace is disrupted. Additionally, your customers or clients cannot benefit from experienced workers that have been with the company for a long time.

Lastly, high turnover rates can also impact productivity, be devastating to the company culture, and be incredibly costly.

Decreasing Respect For Leadership at the Company

Finally, favoritism in the workplace can leave your team to lose respect for the company's leadership. Whether they see favoritism occurring just in your team or throughout the organization, when the seeds of resentment have been planted, they can be difficult to uproot.

Resentment for Company Leadership

The loss of respect for leadership can be a major problem because it can mean that employees are less likely to follow directions from people in leadership roles.

Is Favoritism In the Workplace Illegal?

Favoritism isn't always illegal, but it can be, depending on the reason behind it. If favoritism is rooted in harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, the manager is engaging in illegal behavior.

Employee Experiencing Favoritism

Federal, state, and local governments can determine protected characteristics that cannot be the basis for employment actions. For example, it would be illegal to show favoritism to men over women in the workplace or to people that share your religious beliefs. However, though it might be poor management, it's not illegal to show favoritism toward employees that have the same taste in music or share a favorite football team.

In order to avoid negative outcomes, it is important to assess potential consequences and exercise critical thinking: Critical Thinking Fundamentals

1. Understand the Risks of Favoritism

One of the first steps to avoiding employee favoritism is understanding its downsides.

When you give preferential treatment to one or a few workers over others, you aren't giving other employees the chance to develop, grow, and prove their abilities. This doesn't just hold their careers back but can also limit what your team can accomplish as a whole.

On top of that, when you play favorites, you focus most of your energy on only a small portion of your team. These individuals might not remain with your company indefinitely. You can be left at a severe disadvantage when you invested most of your resources into people who didn't stick around.

Favoring One Employee

As a refresher, favoring some employees over others has several additional disadvantages, including:

  • Decreasing motivation and productivity
  • Increasing feelings of resentment
  • Higher turnover
  • Decreasing respect for company leadership

Favoritism doesn't just limit your employees and your team. It also can negatively impact your personal and professional development. This is because growth and creativity are known to come from being around people with different perspectives and ideas than those you hold. When you only focus on people sharing your views and opinions, you limit yourself as a manager.

A related concept to favoritism is bullying in the workplace. While managers may or may not participate in workplace bullying, favoritism can leave some employees feeling empowered while others feel helpless. This article outlines how to spot and prevent it.

2. Be Inclusive

Who does most of the talking at your team meetings? Do you feel like everyone is comfortable speaking up, or are certain people dominating the conversation?

It's a good idea to encourage your entire team to speak their mind when they have something to say. If you have a few more introverted employees, you might choose to create a feedback system that is email-based to help them feel comfortable speaking up.

Inclusive Employee Team

Inclusivity also applies to how you hand out special projects and other work. When you're building a team or designing an assignment, do you think exclusively or inclusively? Consider if you could add another person to a team, even in a small, minor role. Doing so can give more of your employees the opportunity to participate and feel appreciated.

3. Create a System to Keep Track of Who's Doing What

Keeping tabs on who is doing what can be difficult in a busy office environment. For example, when you don't keep track of who is given assignments, it's possible that you could be playing favorites without even realizing it.

Creating a Tracking System

Creating a system that helps track who is doing what helps ensure that no employees are being favored over others. Depending on the types of assignments you're dolling out, you might find that creating a rotating schedule is suitable to your organization's needs, offers employees the ability to learn and grow, and avoids favoritism in the workplace.

4. Work to Create Bonds With Each Employee

There's a good chance that you naturally get along with certain employees more than others. If one of your hobbies is knitting, for example, and one of your team members is always bringing in pictures of the sweater they're working on, you might find that the two of you have a lot to talk about.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with having shared interests with your employees. But it's important to work to create bonds with the others as well.

Bonding With an Employee

Though it might seem challenging, work to find something you have in common with every team member. If you are struggling with a particular employee, try to find a place where your interests overlap.

5. Be Empathetic

In life, you simply aren't going to get along with everyone you meet. When you are in a leadership position in an organization, though, you have to find ways to ensure that you aren't neglecting certain employees just because you can't stand their personalities.

Being Empathetic With Employee

If you're faced with the challenge of having a subordinate that you don't get along with, your best option is to work to develop empathy for the individual. That doesn't mean you need to run around trying to make them feel good about their work when they're doing a terrible job. It does mean, though, that you work to recognize and appreciate their feelings and how you might make them feel as a manager.

6. Ask a Third Party

It can be tricky to get an objective sense of whether you're favoring certain employees over others. If you're concerned that you don't have a solid grasp of how fair you're being in the office, it can be helpful to ask a third party for their opinion.

Asking a Third Party

You might consider asking someone in another division to join a team meeting and give you feedback. Ask them to note whether you're focusing your attention and energy in a well-distributed way or in a way that could indicate favoritism.

7. Recognize Great Work Regularly

In a fast-paced organization, it can be easy to neglect little victories in favor of bigger wins. It's important to understand, though, that a bit of recognition can go a long way in the workplace.

Of course, it's possible to go too far in this regard. If you're walking around congratulating one person for sharpening their pencil and telling another they did a "great job" showing up to a meeting, your words of encouragement won't mean much to your employees.

Recognizing Great Work

The middle ground is to work to recognize the great work that your employees are doing regularly. If you're struggling to find anything that a particular employee is doing well, look inward and consider that you might be biased against this person or feel a sense of favoritism towards other employees.

If you create a system to track who is receiving recognition and for what, it can allow you to see if any of your employees are being left out. That doesn't necessarily mean they aren't doing a great job– maybe this person primarily works independently or is more introverted. Keep an eye on who is receiving praise and who seems to be repeatedly left out, as this can help you keep things fair in the office.

8. Make Sure Your Reward System is Balanced and Fair

When creating a recognition and reward system in your office, you'll want to ensure that it's fair and balanced.

You can create a system that focuses on elements such as attendance, accuracy, and productivity. Use the same scale for evaluating all of your employees to ensure that no one is being favored.

Rewarding a Team Member

Creating a "rewards committee" can also help separate you from the reward system, as it means you aren't the only one dolling out recognition.

Understanding Your Interpersonal Influence Can Help Avoid Favoritism With Employees

Not everyone who plays favorites in the office realizes that they're doing it. It can be a challenge to understand how you come across to others with an objective lens, and news that one employee feels repeatedly left out might be a complete shock.

That being said, avoiding favoritism in the workplace is important because doing so will benefit your employees, your team, and your organization. It will also allow you to develop and grow your leadership skills by pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone.

Understanding Interpersonal Influence

To better understand the ways that you might be playing favorites with your employees, it's a good idea to run an audit on your leadership style and interpersonal influence. Doing so can give you valuable information about how you can make your leadership and your workplace as a whole even more successful than it already is.

Do you have any questions about how you or your company's managers can avoid favoritism in the workplace? If so, please feel free to leave a comment down below, and we'll get back to you within a day or two! We make it a point to reply to every comment and question we receive, and we'd be more than happy to assist you however we possibly can!

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Millie Frimpong - July 29, 2022

Thanks for the Tips to avoid Favoritism at the workplace. It make sense and i will discuss with my coworkers.

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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.