Creating a workplace where everyone feels valued is essential for a healthy work environment.
But when favoritism creeps in, it can sabotage morale and productivity. Showing preference to certain employees can seriously damage others’ performance, engagement, and overall satisfaction with their job.
It's crucial to recognize the warning signs of favoritism and understand how it can harm your workplace. As a human resources expert, you're in a position to make a difference. By addressing bias head-on and implementing measures to prevent it, you can create an inclusive, equitable work environment where all employees feel valued.
Keep your eyes out for these red flags, and consider the following solutions to address favoritism if it creeps into your office.
What is Workplace Favoritism?
Workplace favoritism refers to situations where employees or managers show special treatment to certain team members based on personal relationships rather than merit or job performance. It occurs when some individuals receive privileges, opportunities, or recognition simply because they are liked or favored by a manager or team leader.
Recognizing and addressing favoritism is crucial because it can negatively affect employees who don’t receive special treatment. When employees perceive biases in the workplace, it can breed a sense of resentment, erode trust, and create a toxic work environment. Some employees may feel undervalued and demotivated despite their hard work, which can ultimately lead to more employee turnover and decreased job satisfaction and lower engagement.
By identifying and addressing workplace favoritism to prevent its adverse effects, HR departments can play a crucial role in creating a fair and inclusive workplace. You can address bias and foster an environment where all employees have equal opportunities to thrive, contribute, and grow professionally.
Examples of Favoritism
Favoritism can take many forms. There are several signs and activities you can watch for that are often indicative of preferential treatment.
- Consistently assigning desirable tasks or projects to a specific individual or group.
- Providing unwarranted praise, recognition, rewards, or extra attention to favored employees.
- Allowing favored employees to bend or break the rules without consequences.
- Excluding certain individuals from decision-making processes or withholding important information from them.
- Demonstrating biased behavior or favoritism openly, which can create a hostile work environment.
- Offering perks — like lunch with the boss — to only a select few employees.
- Saying or implying that a certain employee is your favorite employee.
How to Avoid Workplace Favoritism
While workplace favoritism can be detrimental to your workforce, there are surefire ways to avoid it to keep your employees engaged and thriving.
Promote Transparency and Fairness
Transparency and fairness play a vital role in preventing favoritism. They can help ensure that decisions regarding strategic direction, assignments, and even disciplinary actions are rooted in objectivity over personal preference.
Increased visibility into information can promote transparency, such as ensuring that everyone has access to relevant updates, project details, task assignments, and team events. If it’s in your budget, you can add collaborative project management tools to your tech stack to facilitate the dissemination of information. Otherwise, you can share information on shared platforms like a company messaging tool or wiki page.
Consider implementing standardized performance reviews that are fair and consistently applied to all employees. This helps prevent subjective interpretations and ensures equitable assessments. You can also communicate performance expectations to employees and provide regular feedback on their progress. Help your team understand how their work aligns with organizational goals to reduce the likelihood of favoritism based on unclear expectations.
Encourage Open Communication and Feedback
By creating a company culture of open dialogue, you can provide a platform for all team members to voice their opinions, raise issues, and share feedback without fear of retribution. This kind of environment also allows employees to express any concerns or observations about potential favoritism in a safe and constructive manner.
To encourage open communication and feedback, HR professionals can adopt an open-door communication policy. This can foster a supportive environment for open discussions about favoritism or other workplace challenges.
You can also establish anonymous feedback channels, such as suggestion boxes or online platforms, where employees can provide feedback without the fear of being identified. Anonymity lets individuals who may be hesitant to speak up directly to share their experiences.
Another way to encourage feedback is by conducting regular employee surveys to gauge overall satisfaction and identify potential areas of concern. These surveys can provide valuable insights into the prevalence of favoritism and help HR professionals take appropriate actions.
Implement Consistent, Objective Policies
Implementing consistent and objective policies for job performance evaluations, promotions, and recognition helps remove subjective biases and personal preferences from decision-making. When policies are consistently applied to all employees, it promotes equal opportunities for career development and growth.
Part of a well-defined policy is clearly outlining the criteria and expectations for evaluations, promotions, and recognition. Explain what each process entails and how they are evaluated. For transparency, you can communicate these guidelines to all team members in your organization.
Try to review and update these policies regularly, as needed. Periodically review policies to make sure they align with changing organizational needs and industry best practices. Revisiting and refining these policies helps ensure they stay relevant and effectively prevent favoritism.
Train Supervisors on Impartiality
Training supervisors and other leaders on impartiality can be a great step toward an equitable company culture. Such instruction helps leaders develop the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively recognize, prevent, and address favoritism.
Organize training workshops or seminars specifically tailored to managers, focusing on the importance of impartiality and fair treatment. These sessions can include interactive discussions, case studies, and practical exercises to help supervisors recognize and address favoritism.
Training sessions can also showcase examples of favoritism and its potential negative impact on employee morale and productivity. By highlighting these examples, supervisors gain a better understanding of how favoritism can manifest and its detrimental effects on the overall team dynamic.
For virtual and hybrid workforces (or for convenience), consider offering online training modules supervisors can complete when they have time. These modules can cover the same topics as any in-person training. You can even provide quizzes or assessments to ensure comprehension.
Foster a Culture of Inclusion and Diversity
Fostering a culture where diversity and inclusion are a priority is paramount in preventing biases and favoritism from taking root. An inclusive environment celebrates and values individual differences, ensuring that every employee is treated with respect and fairness.
Try to create an environment where diverse perspectives, ideas, and talents are recognized and appreciated. This kind of environment naturally discourages favoritism as it promotes the notion that everyone deserves equal opportunities and fair treatment, regardless of their background or personal connections.
The foundation for an inclusive and diverse culture starts with implementing inclusive hiring practices that actively seek candidates from diverse backgrounds. Three out of four say a diverse workforce is important when evaluating a potential job offer. By prioritizing diversity and inclusion, you’ll promote a workforce where hiring managers and supervisors look for people with different perspectives and experiences.
Part of a diverse workforce means offering training programs that educate employees on unconscious biases and the importance of treating all individuals with respect and fairness. This kind of training helps create awareness and promotes a culture of acceptance and understanding.
Establish a Formal Complaint or Grievance Procedure
A formal complaint or grievance policy provides a safe and confidential platform for employees to report instances of favoritism without fear of retaliation. This encourages employees to come forward and helps the organization identify patterns or recurring issues that should be addressed.
You can start by creating a comprehensive policy that outlines the procedure for filing complaints or grievances related to favoritism. Clearly define the steps involved, the responsible parties, and the expected timelines for resolution.
As far as addressing these complaints, you can designate individuals in the human resources department to investigate complaints objectively and impartially. These folks should be knowledgeable about the organization's policies and procedures and possess the necessary skills to handle sensitive matters.
Lastly, it’s important to ensure that all employees are aware of the complaint or grievance procedure. Communicate it through various channels, such as employee handbooks, intranet portals, or training sessions. Be sure to provide clear instructions on how to initiate the process.
Protect Employee Wellbeing by Avoiding Workplace Favoritism
Feelings of insecurity that can arise in a workplace when people feel like they’re being treated differently. Whether it’s a lack of acknowledgement for hard work, unfair treatment at meetings, or an overall feeling of not belonging with other employees, it stings.
Creating an equitable work environment can be difficult without the right resources. A wellbeing program can be a powerful tool to advance an inclusive culture, as they show your organization is dedicated to helping every employee feel and do their best.
Gympass helps HR leaders create supportive environments for everyone to enjoy. Our comprehensive wellbeing platform provides flexible benefits to each individual employee so that they can be their best selves, in and out of work. With Gympass, every employee has an equal opportunity to grow and succeed.
To learn about what a wellness program can do for your workforce, reach out to a Gympass wellbeing specialists today!
- Fisher College of Business. (2018, March 7). Playing Favorites: A Study of Perceived Workplace Favoritism. The Ohio State University. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from https://fisher.osu.edu/blogs/leadreadtoday/blog/playing-favorites-a-study-of-perceived-workplace-favoritism.
- Glassdoor. (2020, September). Glassdoor. Diversity & Inclusion Workplace Survey. Retrieved June 8, 2023, from https://b2b-assets.glassdoor.com/glassdoor-diversity-inclusion-workplace-survey.pdf
- Turner, J. (2023, March 29). Employees Seek Personal Value and Purpose at Work. Be Prepared to Deliver. Gartner. Retrieved June 8, 2023 from https://www.gartner.com/en/articles/employees-seek-personal-value-and-purpose-at-work-be-prepared-to-deliver.
The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.