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15 Examples of Favoritism in the Workplace

15 Examples of Favoritism in the Workplace

Workplaces can be tricky social environments, and it's not always easy to avoid playing favorites. Whether you're drawn to someone because they're similar to you, or because you feel like you can take advantage of them, favoring one employee over another can cause tension and resentment in the office. Check out these examples of favoritism in the workplace, and see if you can recognize any familiar situations.

What Is Favoritism in the Workplace?

Favoritism at work occurs when someone in a position of power, such as a general manager favors or shows preferential treatment to certain individuals or groups. This can take many forms, from granting privileges to awarding special assignments.

While favoritism is sometimes seen as a positive thing (after all, who doesn't want to be one of the boss's first choices for promotion?), it can create an environment of suspicion and mistrust, particularly if those who are favored are perceived as being less competent than their colleagues. In extreme cases, favoritism can even lead to charges of discrimination.

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

Signs of Favoritism in the Workplace

You know the signs: getting the boss's "special" parking spot, the ability to take longer lunches, turning a blind eye to a mistake made by someone you like. Favoritism at work is generally a negative thing - when employees feel like they're being treated unfairly, it can lead to poor job performance, resentment, and low morale. Productivity can suffer, and turnover rates may increase. Here we list 15 examples of workplace favoritism.

Unfair hiring

Unfair hiring practices are any behaviors or policies during the hiring process that gives unfair treatment to certain groups of people. This can include anything from ageism and sexism to racism and religious discrimination.

An example could be someone from the human resources department asking a job candidate about their religious affiliation, and then not hiring that person due to their negative views towards that religion.

Unfortunately, unfair hiring practices are all too common, and they can make it difficult for qualified candidates to get their foot in the door. In some cases, such practices can even lead to legal action. According to EEOC, fines for illegal recruiting practices in the US can reach up to $300 000 for organizations. [1]

Unfair promotion

Being passed up for a well-deserved promotion in favor of someone less qualified is very common. A study of more than 300 US executives found that 56% of them admitted having a favorite when making promotion decisions internally. [2]

To illustrate this, imagine an employee that has been working at the same company for several years and has always been one of the most reliable employees. However, he or she is constantly passed over for promotions.

Meanwhile, another staff member is hired into the company recently and quickly experiences career advancement, even though they don't do as much and frequently call in sick. It's clear that favoritism is at play here.

Extra attention

It's common for managers to give their top performers a little extra attention. After all, these employees are the ones who are helping to drive results and keep the business moving forward.

However, this can create resentment among other members of the team who feel like they're being overlooked. It can also lead to gossip and backstabbing as employees try to figure out why some people are being treated differently. In addition, while it's natural to feel a twinge of jealousy when we see others getting special treatment, there's actually a downside to this "golden child" syndrome.

Employees who are singled out for special treatment may be more likely to experience job burnout. These workers may feel pressure to live up to their perceived status, and as a result, they could end up working longer hours and feeling more stressed.

Double standards

Whether it's the boss's son getting preferential treatment or the office gossip being tolerated despite her disruptive behavior, it's easy to feel like some staff members are treated unfairly when you see others being held to different standards.

An example of a double standard could be an employee who is perceived as being "likeable" is more likely to be given assignments that are interesting and complex, while the one who is seen as "less likeable" is more likely to be given boring or menial tasks.

In addition to creating resentment among other employees, double standards can lead to a feeling of entitlement among those who are favored. If they feel that they can get away with certain things that others cannot, they may begin to act entitled and arrogant, further damaging workplace relationships.

Only some voices are heard

In any workplace, there are always going to be some employees who are more vocal than others. Maybe they're the ones who speak up at meetings, or who are quick to offer their opinion when a decision needs to be made.

Unfortunately, if the boss prefers more outspoken employees, it can lead to more reserved members of staff being unnoticed and unheard. Over time, these "invisible" workers may lose motivation to speak up and stop participating in tasks and projects which can lead to resentment and a lack of collaboration among teams.

Fewer expectations

In his bestselling management book "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't" Jim Collins talks about the danger of the "eugenics trap." It refers to an employer hiring employees based on their looks or education as organizations believe that these employees will be more successful.

However, what actually happens is that these staff members are given fewer expectations and are held to a lower standard, as the company assumes that they will be successful no matter what. As a result, the company ends up with mediocrity rather than greatness. [3]

The same thing can happen with favoritism. If a company only favors employees who are related to the owner or who went to the same school, they may end up with fewer expectations for these employees. This can lead to mediocrity and even failure because the company is not tapping into the full potential of its workforce.

Unfair pay rises

It's no secret that people like to be paid what they're worth. After all, fair compensation is one of the key components of a happy and productive workforce. Unfortunately, in many workplaces, employees are not always paid equally for their skills and experience. A pay rise study that looked at 1000 British workers in 2022, revealed that 70% of them thought that their last pay rise did not reflect their work. [4]

Unfair pay rises often lead to feelings of frustration and resentment, especially if raises are given out based on favoritism rather than merit. Not only does this create an environment of tension and mistrust, but it can also lead to decreased productivity as employees become more focused on competing with their colleagues rather than working together.

Unfair bonuses

Often, a story hits the news about a major CEO receiving an outrageous bonus while their lower-level employees are left struggling. It's a sad reality of the business world, but it's one that happens far too often.

But it's not just the top dogs who get special treatment; favoritism is alive at nearly every level of most companies. From a boss giving their nephew a bonus to a team leader who only ever gives perks to their friends, examples of unfair bonuses abound in today's workplace.

When it comes to workplace bonuses, just like with pay raises, bonuses are supposed to be a sign of appreciation for good work, but when they're given out in an unfair way, it can feel like a personal slight.

Extra holidays

It's no secret that some people are given extra holidays at work, whether it's for their birthday, a special occasion, or just because they're the boss's favorite. But what happens when those extra holidays start to add up?

In some cases, the extra holidays may be justified. If someone has been with the company for a long time and is a model employee, they may deserve a few extra days off. But in other cases, it can just be favoritism.

For instance, let's say an employer unintentionally holds more respect toward employees who are married and have children. The organization then allows such employees to take more time off during the holiday period and asks single and childless staff members to work instead - this constitutes favoritism.

Personal involvement with the boss

Whether it's a favored employee getting all the plum assignments or the CEO's nephew being fast-tracked for a promotion, nepotism and cronyism are alive and well in many businesses. Whether it's a romantic relationship or a simple friendship, there's no doubt that this type of favoritism can create a toxic work environment.

Sexual favoritism is a common occurrence too. For instance, many high-profile cases that led to the #MeToo movement revealed a number of powerful executives asking for romantic and sexual favors from their subordinates in exchange for providing promotions or better treatment. This is a form of sexual favoritism in the workplace that can result in sexual harassment and even abuse.

Pet names

You might think that using pet names with your colleagues is a sign of friendship and respect, but it can actually create a sense of favoritism in the workplace. When you use terms like "honey" or "sweetie" with one member of staff, it can make other employees feel like you're excluding them.

In addition, using pet names can make it difficult to maintain a professional relationship with someone. For instance, if you have to give critical feedback to a colleague whom you’ve given a nickname, it could be difficult to switch from being informal and friendly to being professional.


Most workplaces have some form of a mentoring program, where more experienced employees are paired with less experienced ones in order to help them adjust to the workplace and gain new skills. However, there is a downside to mentoring programs: they can often lead to favoritism.

The mentor-mentee relationship is based on trust and respect, which can easily translate into special treatment. For example, a mentee may be given more opportunities or better assignments than their coworkers. While this can help the mentee reach their full potential, it can also create tension among other staff members.

Non-favorites are more likely to be reprimanded

We've all had that one co-worker who seems to be immune to criticism, no matter how often they mess up. And we've all wondered why our own mistakes always seem to get magnified. So what is the reason for this disparity?

Workers who are seen as favorites may be more likely to be forgiven for their mistakes, while those who are viewed as less favorable could be more likely to be reprimanded. This difference may be due to the fact that managers tend to see favorites as more competent and capable of meeting targets, even when they make mistakes.

In contrast, workers who are seen as less favorable could be more likely to be perceived as having a lower capacity for success, and thus their mistakes could more likely be viewed as indicative of their overall ability.

Promoting those who benefit the manager

We have all seen a situation when an office manager started to promote those who benefit them the most, rather than those who are the most qualified for the job. This is often done without any malicious intent; it's simply a matter of convenience and self-preservation.

After all, it's much easier to give a promotion to someone who already does what you want them to do, rather than taking a chance on someone who might not be so cooperative.

Ultimately, this type of favoritism can stifle innovation and creativity, and lead to a workforce that is both unhappy and unproductive.


When someone is scapegoated at work, they may become the target of others' anger and frustration. This can lead to them being treated unfairly and passed over for opportunities. In turn, this can create a feeling of isolation.

If the scapegoat is in a position of authority, they may start to act in a more dictatorial manner. In an attempt to avoid being scapegoated themselves, employees may start to curry favor with their boss. They may do this by going above and beyond in their job or by blindly agreeing with their superiors at all times. This can create an unhealthy work environment where people are afraid to speak up or challenge the status quo.

In addition, a study found that abusive supervisors who tend to blame other employees to save themselves and those who insult their staff are more likely to engage in favoritism. [5]


It can be difficult to admit, but we all have our biases. The key is to be aware of them and do our best to prevent favoritism. If you’re an office manager, a member of senior management or working in an HR department, it’s important to be especially cognizant of your favoritism tendencies and use all your efforts to ensure that your employees feel like they are being treated fairly.

By being mindful of the things that might unconsciously influence your decision-making, you can create a more positive and productive work environment for everyone involved.


  1. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  2. Reinsch & Gardner, 2013.
  3. Collins, 2001.
  4. CIPHR, 2022. Employee vs employer views on pay rises – 2022 survey results.
  5. Tepper, 2000.
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