Signs of Favouritism at Work

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Many would argue have a favourite anything is perfectly human and normal. But when it comes to the workplace, favouritism can create tension and obstacles which contribute to a toxic work culture where people feel unfairly treated.

Ensuring favouritism does not rule your workplace is crucial for Employee Relationship Management, as well as the retention and productivity of your best talent.

In one study, researchers found that:

56% of managers have a favourite candidate in mind before the formal review process has even begun.

Once the review process is over, the predetermined favorite gets the promotion a whopping 96% of the time.

Despite 83% of people surveyed agreeing unfairness leads to poorer decision making when it comes to promotions, 23% admitted they practice favouritism. This means some people are likely practicing favouritism despite being aware it’s not in the organisations best interest.

But favouritism isn’t always easy to spot, and subjectivity can sometimes take the reins when trying to decide if favouritism is present in your workplace.


Here are some signs of favouritism it’s important to watch out for:

Double Standards

Double standards could look like excusing disruptive gossiping or bullying behaviour, and turning it on other employees who raise concerns about it.

It could also look like giving one employee more interesting and important tasks, despite there being other members of the team who are objectively more qualified.

Double standards and favouritism like this can cause resentment to brew between team members, as well as cause them to lose faith and respect for their manager, HR team, and company as a whole.


Favouring some opinions over others

When asking for feedback from a group of employees, whether it’s on a task they’ve completed together or a change you’re planning to make which could impact them, it’s important all voices are heard.

To prevent this kind of favouritism, anonymous surveys can be life savers, as well as having HR review any big decisions being made in a workplace based off mixed feedback.


Mentoring without boundaries

Many workplaces have mentoring programmes, which can be amazing for providing the opportunity for less experiences employees to upskill themselves and have access to the guidance of a more experienced colleague.

However, it’s important to make sure managers do not dedicate their attention and efforts only to their mentee relationship or take projects away from other team members to give to the mentee instead.

To avoid other employees being neglected due to this type of favouritism, making sure there is a pre-agreed plan as to how much of a manager’s time is spent with a mentee, as well as what projects they will lead or support in can help HR and other colleagues spot and address if a manager is significantly straying from this.


Offering more flexibility to favoured employees

One sign of favouritism HR should look out for is if management afford more flexibility to certain team members than others.

From flexible deadlines to extra holidays, management should be careful when making these kind of offers to favourite members of their team.

This is not to say there is not a place for flexibility in the workplace, especially if someone is dealing with sickness or personal issues, or if you have a workplace which holds flexibility as one of it’s core values. However, self awareness should be bore in mind, to ensure no other employees feel they are being hard done by compared to their colleague. 

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But how can you prevent favouritism in the first place?

Here are several strategies HR departments can implement to prevent favouritism cropping up in your workplace:


Develop clear policies and guidelines

Establish written policies and guidelines that explicitly prohibit favouritism and outline expectations for just treatment and equal opportunities while they work for your employer. Communicate these policies to all employees to ensure the standards for a fair employee/manager relationship is clear.

Implement a fair performance evaluation system

Create an objective performance evaluation system based on measurable criteria and defined goals. Train managers on how to provide unbiased feedback and praise during performance reviews, focusing on employees’ actual skill and task performance in the workplace rather than personal preferences.

Provide management training

HR should offer regular training programs for managers and supervisors to promote awareness of unconscious biases, improve leadership skills, and emphasise the importance of preventing discrimination of any kind. This kind of training should not be considered optional enrichment, but rather an essential skill for someone to be able to effectively manage a successful team.

Encourage employee feedback

Implement an easy to use process such as employee surveys, suggestion boxes, or regular feedback sessions to gather input from any individual working at your employer, so that it’s easy for them to report any instances of discrimination, unfair assignment of work, or inappropriate relationships. Actively seek their opinions and ideas on how to improve workplace fairness and minimise unfair behaviour.


Conduct periodic audits

Regularly review and audit how HR manage their processes, such as recruitment, promotion, and performance management, to identify any patterns or indications of favouritism. Make it a top priority task to address any issues promptly and take corrective measures to ensure fair and transparent practices.


What about addressing a culture where favouritism has already taken hold?

Addressing favouritism in the workplace requires a proactive approach from HR. Here are some steps HR can take to manage and eliminate this issue:

Conduct thorough investigations

When reports of unfair behaviour are received, HR should conduct thorough and impartial investigations to gather facts and evidence, treating all parties involved with fairness and confidentiality. If favouritism is substantiated, whether it be an undeserved promotion or a worker being given an assignment they did not deserve, take appropriate disciplinary actions against the responsible parties.

Promote diversity and inclusion

Create a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusion. Encourage collaboration and teamwork among employees from different backgrounds. Celebrate and appreciate the contributions of all employees, ensuring equal opportunities for growth and development.

Lead by example

HR professionals and leadership within your organisation should demonstrate a commitment to fairness and impartiality. Avoid engaging in or tolerating behaviour that promotes the unfair treatment of an employee, and hold all employees accountable for adhering to unfair practices.

Regularly monitor and evaluate progress

Continuously monitor the workplace environment to assess the effectiveness of measures taken. Conduct regular surveys and feedback sessions to gauge employee perceptions and identify any ongoing issues in need of attention from HR.


Can favouritism ever truly be eradicated from the workplace?

By putting in the work and taking proactive steps, HR can address, manage, and eliminate favouritism in the workplace, creating an environment where every employee feels their employer values their contributions, and that they are offered opportunities for growth and advancement on the same terms as their colleagues. While unconscious bias is arguably a natural part of flawed human nature, that doesn’t exempt us from the effort to become self aware ad correct behaviour, especially when it ventures into the realms of discrimination.