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How to Deal with Favoritism in the Workplace

How to Deal with Favoritism in the Workplace

How to Deal with Favoritism in the Workplace

We've all been there - you're in a meeting and someone clearly favors one employee over another, or you're at work and your boss always gives preferential treatment to his or her friends. It's frustrating and can make it hard to feel like everyone is being treated fairly. In this article, we'll explore some tips for dealing with workplace favoritism.

What Is Workplace Favouritism?

Workplace favoritism occurs when an employee is treated differently from other employees in the same company, often in terms of promotion or job assignments. Favoritism can be based on a variety of factors, including race, gender, religion, or personal relationships.

The hard pill to swallow is the fact that a boss might feel more comfortable around employees that look or talk the way they do, as individuals tend to relate to each other based on their nationality, race, religion, and education. As a result of this, the leader of an organization may distance themselves from employees who have different religious affiliations, education, or skin color. This can happen intentionally or unconsciously. [1]

According to a survey given to Federal employees in the US, 1 in 4 of the participants believed that their managers practiced favoritism. [2] Another study found that workplace favoritism was linked to lower job satisfaction, more perceived conflict, injustice in the organization, and more abusive management.

While favoritism in the workplace is not necessarily illegal, it can create a hostile environment and lead to discrimination claims. Everyone from the human resources department to upper management and the chief executive should be aware of the signs of playing favorites and take steps to prevent it from occurring.

For additional information, see our article on Favoritism in the Workplace: A Complete Guide.

Dealing With Favoritism at Work

Every workplace has its share of politics, and favoritism is often a big part of that. Whether it's the boss's son getting the corner office or the new favored employee receiving all the best assignments, favoritism can create a lot of tension among the other employees.

If you're witnessing or dealing with workplace favoritism, there are a few things you can do to try to improve the situation. Addressing preferential treatment, taking steps to prevent it from occurring, and combating it skillfully are the steps every organization should take to create a healthy and fair work environment.

How to Address Favoritism in the Workplace

While having preferences toward some people over others is a part of human nature, at work it can make other employees feel uncomfortable and can be viewed as an illegal practice in extreme cases. That's why if you suspect your organization is practicing favoritism, it's vital to put policies in place that would address the issue of giving special treatment to certain individuals or groups.

Identify the issue

When it comes to addressing favoritism in the workplace, it's important to first identify the issues at hand. Perhaps someone in a leadership role is a favored employee who seems to be receiving special treatment? Or perhaps a general manager favors a certain group of employees over others? Once you have a good understanding of the situation, you can begin to develop a plan for addressing the issue.

Establish no-favoritism policies

First, organizations should make it clear that favoritism will not be tolerated. This can be done through employee handbooks or other written materials. Additionally, employers should provide training on what constitutes favoritism and how to avoid it.

Managers should be clearly forbidden to show preferential treatment to certain employees, and may also be required to disclose any personal relationships they have with other employees. Finally, employers should regularly review their policies and procedures to ensure that they are being followed.

Create a system for assigning tasks

One of the most important aspects of running a business is creating a fair and efficient system for delegating tasks. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to achieve, particularly when there are concerns about favoritism.

The first step would be to establish clear guidelines for how tasks will be assigned. This may involve using a rotational system, assigning tasks randomly, or grouping employees together based on the job description, skillset, and job performance.

Once these guidelines have been established, it is important to stick to them as closely as possible. Of course, there may be times when it is necessary to deviate from the plan, but doing so should be rare and should only be done for good reason.

How to Prevent Favoritism in the Workplace

In addition to having anti-favoritism policies, prevention is key. Preferential treatment can lead to a number of problems, including decreased morale, decreased productivity, and even legal issues. By establishing practices and procedures to prevent favoritism, you can protect your workplace from these potential problems.

Use open communication

In order to create an environment of fairness, it is important that everyone feels comfortable voicing their opinions and concerns. When employees feel like they can openly express themselves, it becomes easier to identify and address issues of favoritism.

Additionally, having open communication lines fosters a sense of trust and respect among co-workers. When employees feel respected and valued, they are more likely to work together cooperatively.

Conduct workplace satisfaction surveys

This will give employees an opportunity to provide honest feedback about their experiences. The survey should be anonymous to encourage employees to be candid. Questions should focus on areas such as communication, team dynamics, and workload distribution.

By taking the time to collect feedback, employers can identify potential problems and take steps to prevent them from developing into larger issues of favoritism.

Make it a part of the onboarding process

When new employees are onboarded, it is important to discuss the topic of favoritism openly and honestly. This discussion should include a review of company policies related to equal treatment, as well as a frank discussion of the potential consequences of favoritism. By addressing the issue head-on, organizations can help to prevent favoritism from taking root in the workplace.

How to Combat Favoritism

Seeing favoritism occurring at work can be frustrating, especially if you feel someone is being passed over for opportunities because of it. But there are ways to combat it, both by speaking up and by demonstrating your employees' value to the company.

Vouch for others

It is important to have open, honest conversations with senior management about how they are treating certain staff members. If you or someone else experienced favoritism from a leader and want others on the team to be heard equally - speak up.

If you see one employee being passed over for a project or not being given the same opportunities as others, explain why that person would be a good fit for the job and offer to help with training or mentorship. It may be difficult at first but by talking through these issues together, organizations can figure out ways that will help make sure other employees' voices count equally toward company success.

Establish clarity

If you're concerned that someone in your organization may be showing favoritism, here are a few warning signs to watch out for:

  • They tend to give one employee preferential treatment in terms of assignments or responsibilities
  • They frequently praise or single out certain individuals while ignoring other employees
  • They socialize more with some employees than others outside of work

Do not forget that it is vital not to confuse favoritism with someone being rewarded for their hard work, or a manager simply giving some guidance to an enthusiastic employee.

Remain professional

Whatever the reason for favoritism, it’s important to remain professional when confronting it in the workplace. If you start making accusations or calling names, you’ll only make the situation worse.

Instead, try to have a calm and factual conversation with your boss or the human resources department about why you feel like someone is being treated unfairly. Additionally, bring as much evidence as possible and be prepared to voice your concerns more than once if necessary.

Take legal action

If the situation doesn't improve by talking to the person who is exhibiting favoritism, if you feel like an employee is being harassed or discriminated against, or talking with the upper management makes matters worse, you may need to take legal action.

The federal government in the US forbids workplace discrimination based on personal characteristics - age, gender, religion, race, and so on, so know that if your employer or co-worker discriminates against someone, the victim is protected by law.

The best way to determine whether or not legal action is warranted is to consult with an experienced attorney. They can help you understand your rights and options under the law. Taking legal action can be a long and difficult process, but it may be necessary to protect your employees' rights and ensure that they're treated fairly.

How to Resolve Favoritism as the Favored Employee

If you're the favored employee and an office manager started giving you the plum assignments, the choice projects, and the best opportunities for development and advancement, you may be feeling very positive.

However, it is important to differentiate between being praised for putting in extra effort and having a great work ethic and being the boss's favorite for reasons unrelated to your job performance. Here are a few tips for resolving favoritism when you're the favored employee.

Acknowledge that favoritism exists

It can be easy to ignore or downplay the fact that you're being favored, but it's important to acknowledge that it's happening. Otherwise, you risk alienating your colleagues and further damaging morale.

Talk to upper management

It's possible that your manager is unaware of the impact favoritism is having on the team. Having a candid conversation about the situation can help to raise awareness and potentially lead to changes in how assignments are made.

Be humble

Remember that being a favored employee is not an entitlement; it's a privilege that can be taken away at any time. Avoid bragging or putting down other employees; instead, try to stay humble and appreciate the opportunities you've been given.

Be inclusive

It is important to remember that your success is not just your own - it is also the result of the hard work and dedication of your colleagues. When you take the time to include them in your success, you strengthen team bonds, build trust, and create an environment of mutual respect.

How to Confront Your Boss about Favoritism

If you've been passed up for a big promotion, even though you have more experience than the co-worker who got it, it's clear that your boss is playing favorites, and it's impacting morale and productivity in the office. But how can you confront your boss about this issue without jeopardizing your job?

Collect evidence

Keep a record of instances where you or others were passed over for opportunities, or given less favorable assignments. This will help to back up your case when you talk to your boss.

Schedule a meeting

Arrange a time with your senior management or human resources department to discuss your concerns. During the meeting, be professional and direct. Avoid accusatory language, and focus on factual examples of favoritism.

Propose a solution

For example, suggest that your boss or the HR department creates a more objective system for assigning projects and promotions. By taking these steps, you can confront your boss about unfair favoritism in a way that is respectful and constructive.


  1. Indvik, 2012.
  2. U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, 2013.
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