Favoritism at work: 8 Signs, Examples, Solutions

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Work dynamics can often be complex and intricate to manage. Favoritism at work is definitely one of the main reasons why. Among many challenges of navigating modern-day work and hustle culture, favoritism can be a sticky balance.

Whether subtle or overt, favoritism can permeate organizational cultures and overshadow the work being done regardless of how successful or fulfilling it is in itself. Favoritism can be dangerous as it is very likely to push your hardworking employees into feeling undervalued and possibly looking for that value elsewhere.

Let’s take a look together into how favoritism manifests in the workplace, take a look at its examples, strategize together how you can combat favoritism at work, and finally how you can properly encourage and celebrate your employees without falling into favoritism!

Signs of Favoritism In The Workplace

To identify favoritism at work can be a challenging task especially if the signs are subtle and you feel like maybe you’re reading too much into simple actions. This is a normal experience, as favoritism often operates right under the surface. So here are some signs that may be indicators of favoritism in your workplace.

8 signs of workplace favoritism

1. Unequal Treatment

Noticeable differences in how individuals are treated, such as preferential access to resources, opportunities, or flexible work arrangements, without clear justification based on performance or qualifications can be one of the first indicators.

An inequity of this kind is guaranteed to raise questions on favoritism and can breed resentment amongst employees not only to employers but to fellow employees as well, leading to disruption in team dynamics and collaborative spaces.

2. Promotions and Assignments

Regularly observing certain individuals receiving promotions, desirable assignments, or opportunities for career advancement, despite lacking the requisite skills or experience compared to others who are overlooked is another sign.

Instances like these can create a sense of disillusionment and frustration among the rest of your employees who may be more competent in their roles, leading to the feeling that their efforts are unrecognized and decreased employee engagement over time.

3. Exclusive Information:

Privileged access to information or decision-making processes may be granted to favored employees, often leading to them being more informed or involved in key discussions and initiatives.

This takes away the fair right of other employees who can bring different perspectives to the table in such discussions, creating an environment of lack of diversity that will hinder productivity and efficiency in an organization.

4. Social Circles:

Favoritism can manifest through social connections as well, with those who are part of the inner circle or have personal relationships with decision-makers receiving preferential treatment in terms of recognition, support, and advancement.

This will inevitably perpetuate a culture of favoritism where it undermines other individuals who may actually be showing more competency. Ultimately, favoritism in this way will also lead to stifled diversity and innovation in an organization.

5. Blind Eye to Performance Issues:

Tolerating subpar performance or behavioral misconduct from favored individuals, while others are held to higher standards or face repercussions for similar actions can also be a dangerous type of favoritism.

This is because performance issues are such a clear sign of undervalue for those who do have higher standards. Those who have to show better quality performance go unnoticed whilst others are not held to the same standard, and likely having to pick up the burden of those who are favored is surely going to create major frustration.

6. Public Praise and Recognition:

Favored individuals may consistently receive public praise, recognition, or awards for their contributions, even if their achievements are comparable to or less significant than those of their peers.

The unfair distribution of recognition and reward is very likely to jeopardize the retention of top talent within your organization and will contribute directly to your organization’s sustained success.

7. Exclusion from Opportunities:

Certain individuals being systematically excluded from opportunities for career development, training programs, or high-profile projects, despite their qualifications or expressed interest is one of the clearer signs of favoritism at work.

This can lead talented employees to feel demotivated to put out quality work and the sense of undervalue can push them to look for other opportunities. If organizations are not careful, favoritism can be one of the main reasons why employee turnover rates are high and retention is low.

8. Lack of Transparency:

Instances where decision-making processes, particularly regarding promotions, raises, or performance evaluations, lack transparency or appear arbitrary, leading to speculation and distrust among employees.

Since the employees in this case are not included fairly in such processes, lack of transparency can raise question marks on whether there is any favoritism and lead to employee disengagement.

These are some signs that can indicate favoritism at work, whether they are experiences collectively or individually. It’s essential for employees and employers alike to remain vigilant and address any issues that might arise in relation to favoritism.

Examples of Workplace Favoritism

To add to the signs of favoritism at work, let’s also take a look at some examples to paint a clearer picture.

  1. Unequal Treatment: For instance, imagine two employees in the same department requesting to work remotely on Fridays. One employee, who happens to be close friends with the team leader, is granted the request without question, while the other employee, with a similar workload and performance, is denied the same opportunity without a valid explanation.
  1. Promotions and Assignments: Consider a case where a less-experienced employee is consistently assigned to high-visibility projects over more qualified colleagues. Despite lacking the necessary skills and experience, this individual continues to receive promotions and plum assignments solely because of their personal rapport with upper management.
  1. Exclusive Information: A select group of employees is invited to closed-door meetings with senior executives to discuss upcoming organizational changes. These individuals gain valuable insights and have a say in decision-making, while the rest of the team remains in the dark, leading to speculation and resentment among those who are left out.
  1. Social Circles: The CEO regularly plays golf with a particular group of executives. As a result, these executives receive preferential treatment in terms of bonuses, raises, and career advancement opportunities, despite their performance being on par with or even below that of their colleagues who are not part of the CEO’s inner circle.
  1. Blind Eye to Performance Issues: Suppose a team leader consistently ignores the tardiness and poor performance of their favorite employee, making excuses for their behavior and shielding them from disciplinary action. Meanwhile, other team members face consequences for similar infractions, creating a sense of unfairness and frustration within the team.
  1. Public Praise and Recognition: In a company-wide meeting, the CEO lavishes praise on a particular employee for a successful project outcome, while failing to acknowledge the contributions of the rest of the team who worked tirelessly on the same project. This public display of favoritism not only undermines team cohesion but also diminishes the morale of those overlooked.
  1. Exclusion from Opportunities: For example, a manager consistently overlooks certain employees for training programs or leadership development opportunities, instead favoring individuals who share their demographic background or personal interests. This exclusionary behavior not only deprives deserving employees of growth opportunities but also perpetuates a homogeneous workforce culture.
  1. Lack of Transparency: Consider a company where promotions are seemingly awarded arbitrarily, without clear criteria or explanation. Employees are left wondering why some colleagues are elevated while others with comparable qualifications are passed over, leading to speculation, mistrust, and a sense of disillusionment with the organization’s leadership.

How To Combat Favoritism At Work?

There are several ways you can eliminate favoritism at work.

6 ways to combat favoritism at work
  • Promote Transparency: Encourage open communication and transparency in decision-making processes, especially regarding promotions, assignments, and resource allocation. Clearly define criteria for advancement and ensure that they are applied consistently and fairly across your organization. Establish clear policies and guidelines that support this.
  • Provide Training and Education: Offer training programs to raise awareness about unconscious bias, favoritism, and the impact they can have on overall workplace dynamics. Equip your managers and employees with the skills and knowledge they need to recognize and address these issues effectively.
  • Foster Inclusive Leadership: Cultivate a culture of inclusive and democratic leadership, where managers lead by example and demonstrate fairness, impartiality, and respect for all employees. Encourage leaders to build relationships based on merit and performance rather than personal connections. Model these actions and lead by example.
  • Encourage Feedback and Accountability: Create mechanisms for employees to provide feedback and raise concerns about favoritism or unfair treatment without fear of retaliation. Hold managers and leaders accountable for their actions and decisions, and address any instances of favoritism promptly and transparently.
  • Promote Diversity and Inclusion: Embrace diversity and inclusion as core values of the organization and actively work to create a diverse and inclusive workplace where all employees feel valued, respected, and supported. Foster a sense of belonging among employees from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
  • Regularly Evaluate Processes: Regularly review and evaluate organizational processes and practices to identify and address any potential sources of bias or favoritism. Look for opportunities to streamline decision-making processes and increase transparency to minimize the risk of favoritism.

How Do You Recognize Your Team Without Showing Favoritism?

Establish Clear Criteria: Set clear and transparent criteria for recognition. Make sure everyone understands what constitutes excellent performance such as meeting specific goals, demonstrating exceptional teamwork, or showing innovative thinking.

A clear set of criteria will also help increase accountability and transparent visibility in your organizational culture and help you show professional praise to your employees.

Rotate Recognition Opportunities: Rotate the opportunities for recognition so that different team members have a chance to be acknowledged. This will prevent the same individuals from consistently receiving recognition and help ensure fairness.

Celebrate Diversity of Contributions: Recognize and appreciate the diverse contributions that each team member brings to the table. Acknowledge both big wins and small victories across various aspects of work, such as creativity, leadership, problem-solving, and collaboration.

Using a recognition tool is a very helpful way to achieve just that, especially in modern work-life settings such as remote options. With communications softwares becoming a widely used tool too, a well-integrated recognition tool can make all the difference in celebrating your employees.

A recognition tool can help boost employee morale and motivation more efficiently since it provides timely acknowledgment of achievement and streamlines the process. It also helps track and reward performance, contributing to overall organizational productivity.

Introducing Teamflect

One of the best ways to show recognition for your team is to utilize a recognition tool like Teamflect! Teamflect is an all-in-one solution inside Microsoft Teams that can assist you in your recognition efforts without having you fall into favoritism.

Teamflect recognition module

Sending recognition is incredibly easy and accessible with Teamflect. With the customizable features and seamless integration of the app, praising your employees professionally and motivating your workforce is always a click away.

Use Teamflect and show your workforce the encouragement they deserve for their efforts, equally across your organization through an accessible and transparent channel!

Praise your employees inside Microsoft Teams!
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Use Multiple Channels: Utilize a variety of recognition channels, such as team meetings, email announcements, bulletin boards, or company newsletters. This allows you to reach different audiences and ensures that recognition is visible to all team members.

Encourage Peer Recognition: Foster a culture of peer-to-peer recognition where team members can nominate and applaud each other’s accomplishments. This not only spreads positivity but also reinforces teamwork and camaraderie. Teamflect can help you there as well!

Provide Constructive Feedback: Offer constructive feedback along with recognition. This shows that you value continuous improvement and provides an opportunity for growth for all team members, regardless of whether they are being recognized or not, and increases accountability in the process.

Be Consistent: Consistency is key to avoiding favoritism. Apply the recognition criteria fairly across the team and avoid making exceptions based on personal relationships or biases.

What Are The Impacts of Favoritism At Work?

By now we’ve already established that favoritism at work can be a dangerous thing to have for several reasons. But let’s make a list of the impacts of favoritism at work to have a better overview.

8 Impacts of favoritism at work
  • Decreased Morale: Employees who perceive favoritism in the workplace often experience feelings of demoralization, frustration, and disillusionment. When certain individuals consistently receive preferential treatment, others may feel undervalued and unappreciated, leading to decreased motivation and engagement.
  • Eroded Trust: Favoritism undermines trust in leadership and the fairness of organizational processes. When decisions about promotions, assignments, and rewards appear to be based on personal relationships rather than merit, employees may lose confidence in the integrity of the organization and its leaders.
  • Increased Conflict: Favoritism can fuel resentment and interpersonal conflict among coworkers. When certain individuals are perceived to receive special treatment, it can breed jealousy, animosity, and tension within teams, disrupting collaboration and cohesion.
  • Reduced Productivity: A workplace environment characterized by favoritism is often less productive and innovative. When employees feel that their efforts are not recognized or rewarded fairly, they may become disengaged and less committed to their work, leading to lower productivity levels and diminished performance.
  • High Turnover Rates: Employees who feel unfairly treated or overlooked due to favoritism may become disenchanted with their jobs and seek opportunities elsewhere. High turnover rates can be costly for organizations, resulting in increased recruitment and training expenses, as well as a loss of institutional knowledge and expertise.
  • Negative Organizational Culture: Favoritism can contribute to the development of a toxic organizational culture characterized by politics, cronyism, and mistrust. In such environments, employees may prioritize self-interest over collaboration and ethical behavior, undermining the overall health and effectiveness of the organization.
  • Legal Risks: In extreme cases, favoritism can expose organizations to legal risks and liabilities. Discriminatory practices based on factors such as race, gender, or personal relationships may violate anti-discrimination laws and regulations, leading to legal challenges, lawsuits, and reputational damage.
  • Stifled Innovation and Creativity: When opportunities for advancement and recognition are perceived to be limited to a select few, talented employees may become discouraged and withhold their innovative ideas and creative contributions. This can hinder organizational growth and competitiveness in the long term.

Because of these effects, favoritism at work is a widely negative concept that can affect employee morale, trust productivity, and overall organizational effectiveness. That’s why it is essential for organizations to incorporate strategies to combat favoritism at work and use the right tools to celebrate their workforce fairly.

Manage performance inside Microsoft Teams
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What are the signs of favoritism at work?

The signs of favoritism at work are; unequal treatment, unequal distribution of promotions and assignments, exclusively informing some employees over others, differences in social circles, turning a blind eye to performance issues, publicly praising and recognizing some employees more, excluding others from certain opportunities, and a lack of overall transparency.

What are some examples of workplace favoritism?

Instances where certain employees consistently receive promotions or desirable assignments based on personal relationships rather than merit, preferential treatment in terms of access to resources or information, overlooking of performance issues for favored individuals while others face consequences for similar actions, public praise and recognition disproportionately given to select employees, exclusion of deserving individuals from opportunities for career development or advancement, and decisions made arbitrarily without transparency or clear justification, leading to perceptions of unfairness and resentment among staff members.

How can you combat favoritism at work?

Ways to combat favoritism at work are; promoting transparency and implementing clear policies, providing training and education, fostering inclusive leadership, encouraging feedback and accountability, promoting diversity and inclusion, regular evaluation, and leading by example.

How do you recognize your team without showing favoritism?

You can recognize your team without showing favoritism by establishing clear criteria, rotating recognition opportunities, celebrating contributions diversely, using multiple channels, encouraging peer recognition, providing constructive feedback, and being consistent.

What are the impacts of favoritism at work?

The impacts of favoritism at work are; decreased morale, eroded trust, increased conflict, reduced productivity, high turnover rates, negative organizational culture, legal risks, and stifled innovation and creativity.

Written by Deniz Imer

Deniz is a content writer at Teamflect. She is obsessed with organizational behavior studies and loves writing/thinking about how a carefully designed people strategy can transform a company.

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