Picking Sides: What To Do When Bosses-- or You-- Show Favoritism At Work

You may have noticed it on a conference call if your boss never asks your opinion or talks over you when you speak. Or if your manager always saves a seat closest to her in a meeting for your colleague and leaves you scrambling.Another person in the organization may always receive the plum assignments—before they are revealed to the whole staff. Your supervisor may always compliment a co-worker, and leave the rest of you hanging and hungry for feedback.  You may have a boss who consistently invites one of your co-workers to lunch, but never you.Aside from eroding your self-confidence and perpetuating your insecurities, it can have direct economic impact, resulting in fewer raises, fewer lucrative projects and a lack of advancement. The worst part may be thinking that it is not happening and is all in your head.[bctt tweet=“Favoritism in the office can have direct economic impact, resulting in fewer raises, fewer lucrative projects and a lack of advancement. #workplaceprobs” username=“takeleadwomen”]So what can you do when the leader of your organization shows favoritism?Acknowledge that it is real. Document instances and events where the behavior repeats, even if it is just in a journal for yourself. You want to be careful about spreading rumors or sounding insecure, so you may want to ask a trusted friend outside the workplace if the behavior seems like favoritism. Not feeling gaslighted is priceless. But do not get into an accusatory conversation with your boss. This will not be well-received.“Part of having friendships in our personal lives is helping people, doing favors, and listening when the need our support. However, friendships formed at the workplace can spill over into workplace responsibilities. We start to cover for people who are struggling, or we expect special treatment in the office in exchange for the personal relationship we have at home. This problem becomes even more challenging when the relationship is between a boss and an employee. This is when favoritism is most pronounced and most frustrating to other people,” writes Robby Slaughter, Principal, AccelaWork LLC, in Inside Indiana Business.Keep tabs on your own behavior. While you may enjoy friendships with a few of your co-workers more than others, do not make anyone else feel left out. Sit near different colleagues at meetings and make sure you model thoughtfulness to everyone in the workplace the same ways.“One of the things that’s fascinating is that while friendship can have a lot of individual benefits, too much friendship can lead to destruction in the workplace. It can lead to needing to engage with other people in a way that can be emotionally taxing to you, if it’s too deep. Sometimes you get caught up in some of the dynamics and it can be really distracting,” writes Nancy Rothbard, management professor at The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania in Knowledge at Wharton.Be transparent about your own work and productivity. Share your successes. Perhaps your supervisor is not aware of all you have been doing and of your contributions to the organization. Not that you are hunting for compliments, but when you have a positive outcome, email the results to your boss, forward an email from a client who was pleased with your work. Make the interactions with your boss or manager about the work and about your performance. Set the boundary that you are communicating your positive outcomes in order to provide concrete information and feedback.As Gloria Feldt, president and co-founder of Take The Lead says in Power Tool # 3 of the 9 Leadership Power Tools, “Use what you’ve got.” This can be using the information about your performance and your deliverables. Feldt adds, “What you need is almost always there. See it and use it with courage. Because power unused is power useless.” And you have the power to shift the culture to one of democracy.On the other side of the equation, if you are a leader in an organization and managing others, you can also check your own patterns of behavior. Make sure you do not display an “inner circle” mentality to your royal court. You want everyone in the workplace to feel valued.[bctt tweet=“If you are a #leader in an organization and managing others, you can check your own patterns of behavior to avoid favoritism in the office.” username=“takeleadwomen”]Create a culture of open communication. Set aside time when everyone on the team can share ideas and insights.”When you allow people to voice their thoughts and suggestions in this way, you showcase your respect for them, which only improves their self-esteem and performance in the workplace. Respect for others’ time for sharing, known as ‘group airtime,’ also helps people feel valued and reduces the odds of developing the impression of favoritism or an ‘us vs. them’ culture,” writes Louis Carter, CEO/founder of Best Practice Institute, in Forbes.Be sure you have self-awareness. You need to be cognizant of your attitude so your colleagues and co-workers recognize you are not playing Queen Bee with your favorite worker bees already assigned their positions in the hive.“If you’re in a close friendship, you need to be aware of the impact that’s having on other people. You need to be aware that other people might be feeling excluded. You need to think about being more deliberately inclusive of other people. Things like that are important to keep in mind because a lot of times you’re in this bubble of the friendship and you’re not aware of the impact it’s having on other organizational outcomes,” writes Rothbard.Earn the trust of your team. “With the rapid pace of change increasing, having trust in their leader becomes crucial for an organization to thrive. It is the leader’s role to build that trust by being authentic, open and transparent. This means that the leader’s words have to be consistent with, and backed up by his or her actions. Members of the organization have to be treated fairly and equitably leaving no room for favoritism or nepotism. Highly skilled and valuable staff will not stand for this and will look for work in organizations where they will be accorded respect and recognition for the skills and efforts they bring,” writes Harvey Deutschendorf in Business2Community.Whatever side of the favoritism coin you are on, the bottom line is favoritism hurts the bottom line.[bctt tweet=“Whatever side of the favoritism coin you are on, the bottom line is #favoritism hurts the bottom line. “ username=“takeleadwomen”]It goes without saying that we are humans and bound to display some bias at some point in time. However, having an open mind, defining personal and professional boundaries are the key to forge a way out of such problems. The more explicit boundaries are set, the happier will the employees be at workplace and chances are that they might stay longer in a firm,” writes Saurabh Gandle in People Matters. Whether you are on the wrong side of your boss’s special selection process, or you are a leader demonstrating who you like best, you need to do everything you can to equalize the workplace culture.“Favoritism at the office can degrade morale and motivation. When other people get special, unfair treatment, overall productivity drops,” writes Slaughter. “Push back against favoritism by focusing on what matters most at work: the work itself.”