Workplace dynamics are complex and often fraught with challenges. One of the most insidious issues that can poison the well of employee morale is favouritism in the workplace. This article delves into the definition of favouritism in the workplace, provides real-life examples, and offers strategies for dealing with this sensitive issue.

Understanding Favouritism in the Workplace

Definition of Favouritism in the Workplace

Favouritism in the workplace, often referred to as nepotism or preferential treatment, occurs when certain employees are given preferential treatment, opportunities, or recognition based on personal relationships or biases rather than their actual performance, skills, or qualifications. This can manifest in various ways, such as promotions, plum assignments, salary increases, or even leniency in disciplinary actions.

Recognising the Signs

To effectively address workplace favouritism, it is crucial to recognise its signs and manifestations. Some common indicators include:

Unequal Opportunities: Certain employees consistently receive better opportunities, promotions, or projects without clear justification based on their qualifications or performance.

Excessive Praise: Managers excessively praise or reward a particular employee, often beyond what seems reasonable given their contributions.

Lack of Transparency: Decisions related to promotions, raises, or project assignments are made without transparency, leaving employees in the dark about the criteria used.

Exclusion: Favouritism may lead to the exclusion of qualified employees from important meetings, projects, or decision-making processes.

Double Standards: Managers may hold favoured employees to different standards, tolerating subpar performance or behaviour that others would not accept.


Examples of Favouritism in the Workplace

To understand the real-world impact of favouritism in the workplace, consider these illustrative examples:


The Family Favouritism

In a small family-owned business, the owner's niece, who lacked relevant experience, was swiftly promoted to a managerial position over more experienced employees. Despite her lack of qualifications, she was given preferential treatment due to her family connection, leading to resentment and decreased morale among the team members.


The Friendship Favouritism

At a large tech company, the CEO and a senior executive had a close friendship outside of work. As a result, the executive received constant praise, even when their decisions negatively impacted the company. Meanwhile, other employees who raised concerns were ignored or labelled as troublemakers.


The Unspoken Favouritism

Employees who shared the same hobbies and interests as the manager in a corporate office received frequent invitations to after-work social events. These gatherings were an informal platform for discussing job opportunities and promotions, leaving others feeling excluded and disadvantaged.


The Gender Bias Favouritism

In a male-dominated industry, a female employee consistently outperformed her male peers. However, she noticed that her male colleagues received promotions and pay raises more frequently. It became evident that her manager was biased towards male employees, leading to a hostile work environment.


Dealing with Favouritism in the Workplace

Favouritism can erode trust, decrease employee motivation, and harm an organisation's bottom line. Fortunately, there are strategies for both employees and employers to address and mitigate this issue.


For Employees:

Self-Assessment: Reflect on your feelings and perceptions to ensure personal biases do not influence them. It's essential to separate actual favouritism from perceived favouritism.


Document Instances: Record any favouritism-related incidents, including dates, times, locations, and individuals involved. This documentation can be helpful when discussing the issue with HR or superiors.


Speak Up: If you feel comfortable doing so, discuss your concerns with the person displaying favouritism. They may not be aware of their biases or the impact of their actions.


Seek Support: Share your concerns with trusted colleagues or mentors. They may provide valuable advice or advocate on your behalf.


Follow Company Procedures: If informal approaches fail, consider escalating the matter through formal channels, such as HR or an ombudsman, who can conduct a fair investigation.


For Employers and Managers:

Promote Transparency: Ensure decision-making processes for promotions, raises, and project assignments are clear and well-communicated. When employees understand the criteria, they are less likely to perceive favouritism.

Implement Anti-Bias Training: Conduct training sessions to educate employees and managers about unconscious bias and favouritism. This can help raise awareness and reduce its prevalence.

Encourage Feedback: Create a culture where employees feel comfortable providing feedback on management practices without fear of retaliation.

Establish Clear Policies: Develop and enforce clear policies and procedures for promotions and other key HR decisions. These policies should be based on merit and qualifications rather than personal relationships.

Monitor and Audit: Regularly review promotion and pay raise decisions to ensure fairness and consistency. Address any disparities promptly.


The Role of HR:

Human Resources plays a critical role in addressing and preventing favouritism:

Education: HR should train employees and managers on the impact of favouritism and how to recognise and address it.

Conflict Resolution: HR should be a neutral party to which employees can turn when they believe favouritism affects their work environment.

Policy Development: HR should work with leadership to develop clear policies and procedures that discourage favouritism and promote fair treatment.

Investigation: When complaints arise, HR should conduct thorough and impartial investigations to determine the validity of the claims and take appropriate action.


Favouritism in the workplace is a pervasive issue that can have severe consequences for employees and organisations alike. It erodes trust, hampers productivity, and can lead to high turnover rates. Recognising the signs of favouritism, understanding its impact, and implementing strategies to address it are crucial to creating a fair and equitable work environment. By promoting transparency, providing training, and fostering a culture of fairness, employers can mitigate the adverse effects of favouritism and create a more inclusive workplace for all.


StudentJob is an online job portal that connects students and graduates with job opportunities across the UK. StudentJob offers various job opportunities across various industries and sectors, making it an excellent platform for students and graduates to kick-start their careers.


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