Are you a victim of favouritism? | Sunday Observer

Are you a victim of favouritism?

24 January, 2021

It’s hard enough to be successful and work your way up in your career. Now imagine you do everything right and outperform all your colleagues and your hard work is overlooked.

When business owners and leaders play favourites, the effects can be detrimental, not just to more deserving employees but to the entire organisation. Although favouritism is quite common, the signs can be hard to identify and it can be even harder to unmask the true reason behind the unfair treatment. It is human nature to like some people more than others, but playing favourites in the workplace is a dangerous game and it can kill business over time.

In the real world, most of us have experienced favouritism – being a beneficiary or a victim during our school days.  If you weren’t the favorite, do you remember how that made you feel? The chances are high that it didn’t make you feel positive about yourself or the person showing preferences. 

Now, as an adult, workplace favouritism feels even worse as it decreases morale and productivity. That’s why it’s critical employers understand why treating employees fairly, consistently across their workforce, is necessary for individual and overall company success. Some employees have power going beyond their authority. Some employees who work really hard get less respect than some people who hardly work but perceived to be making a big contribution.

Fairness means a leader treats everyone appropriately and individually, based on circumstances and contribution. You need to exercise sound judgment regarding your employees. Your employees also need to feel valued beyond members of your team. It is essential you meet their unique working situations with understanding and respect. There are two main types of favouritism.

Arbitrary favouritism can happen when you treat a particular staff member differently because you get along with them and maybe enjoy socialising with them or get personal work done. Performance-based favouritism can happen when you naturally acquiesce to requests from high-performing employees more than other employees.

Victim or beneficiary

Either variety of favouritism can be easy to fall into because managers are often unaware they are even doing it. While most managers would never admit to playing favorites with their staff, it is something they need to be aware of and guard against. Whether it’s real or perceived, subtle or overt, employees are highly attuned to bosses who may be playing favorites’ amongst their staff. Employees on the wrong end of favouritism can be demoralized, and that can erode company culture.

When one or two employees are positioned on a pedestal, it can be difficult for the team to work together cohesively. And it’s often not great for the favorites, who may have to deal with resentment from their colleagues.

In addition to improving morale, avoiding favouritism is also good for your personal development. Constantly surrounding yourself with people you like can limit your growth as a manager.

Learning how to work with, manage, and develop people you may find personally challenging will make you a more complete manager, which is an admirable goal for any professional. If you think you might be unintentionally subjecting your office to favouritism, you need to certainly work on that.


Playing favorites is also a bad strategy because it can diminish your exposure to multiple perspectives. Having a deep bench and knowing the capabilities of employees beyond your one or two star performers is really good for you as a manager because you won’t have to turn to the same people and burn them out. Having everybody firing on all cylinders requires them to feel you treat them fairly and with respect.

Leaders shouldn’t forget that there are others on the team who could potentially be performing just as strongly. A single employee alone, no matter how talented, isn’t going to meet the company’s every objective, but a strong team working together could.

Be transparent

It always helps to be transparent and communicative with your employees about how you are making decisions on whom to choose for a project or presentation. Letting employees know their turn is coming, even if it’s down the road, will ensure they don’t feel forgotten. You don’t have to over explain everything, but letting them know, for instance, that you’re trying to balance their workloads, so if anyone feels they have too much or too little-feel free to speak up. It goes so far for them to know you’re open and trying to do the right thing.

Holding yourself accountable is the way to ensure your employees are being fairly treated. Changing your mind or your attitude on a day-to-day basis will do nothing to foster trust with your employees.