How to Avoid the Perception of Favoritism in the Workplace

Favoritism in the workplace, like favoritism within in a family, can have very negative affects on the overall morale.  If your workers believe you are somehow predisposed to seeing a particular worker more favorably than other workers, productivity and cooperation are likely to take a strong hit.  Sometimes it is difficult to judge when workers feel that someone is being favored over another person, but here are some tips to avoid creating this sort of situation.

Beware of Hiring Family Members and other Close Friends

One of the main sources of perceptions of favoritism in the workplace is nepotism.  Nepotism is the hiring or promotion of someone because they are related to the higher ups at a company.  It is common practice at smaller companies to have much of the management being made up of the boss’s family. 

This practice, however, will tend to hinder growth.  When talented workers see the boss’s family members being hired into management positions, they start to look for opportunities in other companies where they feel they are more likely to get a fair shake.  Workers in family companies generally feel they will either have to marry into management or find greener pastures.

If you really want to hire the best, most qualified workers to help you company succeed, you should avoid hiring family members or close friends.  If you do hire a family member, make sure they are supervised by someone who is in no way related to you, and make their promotion dependent on objective third party managers so you are not perceived to be directly involved in their promotions.

Charges of nepotism will still arise even if you do this, but at least there will be fewer grounds for them.

Avoid Giving Special Attention to One Individual

We are all naturally drawn to certain types of personalities and away from others.  We are only human, after all.  In the workplace, however, it is unhealthy to become overly attached to a particular underling.  You may find you have something in common with a particular worker.  You both may have an interest in tennis, for example.  Although it is certainly okay to speak about your interests to one another, it is generally a bad idea begin exclusively inviting such a worker out with you.  You would not, for example, want to invite one worker to go see a tennis match with you and not invite his or her colleagues to a comparable event.

If you develop such a relationship with an underlying, whenever you offer that underling an assignment, his peers will question whether the reason you offered them that opportunity was because of their abilities or because of your favor.  Over compensating in the opposite direction is equally as damaging.  Never offering that favorite an opportunity may both be taken as a slight by the favorite and seen as a sign of something unseemly by his or her peers.

Beware of Affiliations of Race and Class

One permutation that perceptions of favoritism in the workplace take is in affiliations of race, class, and religion.  If you are religious, for example, and you invite you accept a subordinate’s invitation to a prayer retreat, your other secular workers may view you as favoring that worker based on your faith.  This may also happen in terms of class or even college affiliation.  If you went to a prestigious school and one of your workers did as well, but the other workers surrounding that worker are not college educated, any sort of special relationship you form with that worker may be perceived as favoritism.  

Especially damaging are perceptions of favoritism due to racial affiliation.  If you are a Hispanic manager and you mentor a Hispanic worker at your office over a Caucasian worker of similar qualifications, this may become a problem.

Don’t Forget Sexual Favoritism

Perceptions of sexual favoritism in the workplace are even more complicated.  If you show special attention to an attractive worker of the opposite sex, workers may believe it has to do more with sexual attraction than merit.  Be careful not to flirt or act unprofessionally towards any worker since doing so may not only effect your reputation but his or hers.  Such interactions may lead to all sorts of workplace problems.

Common Sense Guidelines

A good general rule is that when you are a higher up at a company, you should try to keep a professional front towards all your employees.  Think of them as you would your children.  Even if one impresses you more than the others do, you don’t want all your children to see this.  You want to treat them all as if they are equally important to you.

Of course, sometimes one will show extra promise but even then, you will want to keep your relationship strictly professional.  You may socialize and show a special relationship with others in your company who you are on an equal footing with but even then you should be careful. 

Your safest position is to keep socializing outside of the immediate workplace.