As a leader, you are the one responsible for keeping employees at your organisations happy and productive. But, this goal would be difficult to reach if favouritism practices exist in the workplace, especially if they are allowed to grow unchecked.
Evidence has shown that many leaders have favourites and treat their favoured employees differently. In a survey of 303 U.S. executives, researchers found that more than half (56 percent) of executives admitted to having a favourite candidate when making internal promotion decisions. A staggering 96 percent will promote their favourites rather than considering the candidates’ communication abilities, which is crucial for the position examined in the study.
Similarly, research by the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board indicated that 25 percent of American federal employees believe their supervisor practices favouritism. Over 50 percent suspected that other supervisors in their organisation practices favouritism, while 30 percent of human resources management staff agreed that favouritism occurs in the organisations where they serve.
Certain types of favouritism are practiced in different parts of organisation. Becoming familiar with types of favoritism that are practiced can develop effective policies to combat them.
Leaders play favouritism for various reasons, including simply because certain employees have more similarities to them, like certain employees better because they obey them more, or leaders have certain goals in the company and become manipulative to achieve the goal by practising favouritism.
The consequences of this practice are also numerous. Employees not only deemed favouritism as a form of workplace injustice or unfairness, but also reacted to favouritism behaviours with negative emotions. Meng Li described in her study that favouritism creates certain negative emotions from employees towards organisations. This emotion will then turn into doing less work, having less work motivation, and having more emotional exhaustion. Subordinates who perceived higher degrees of favouritism also reported having poor work relationships with leaders, receiving less recognition and professional help, receiving less support at work, and having less trust toward the supervisors. In the end, employee turnover will grow higher if the favouritism is not addressed properly.
According to Meng Li, although favoured employees at work reported a significantly higher quality work relationship, they also reported higher levels of emotional exhaustion, turnover intentions, and reported more interpersonal conflict with their coworkers at work. The amount of job satisfaction, work motivation, affection toward the organisation, loyalty to the company and perception of fairness did not significantly differ from those who do not think they were their supervisor’s favourites.
In short, those who are favoured by their supervisors might also be the victims to a certain extent. They might feel pressure from their peers for receiving better treatment, frequently perceive conflicts initiated by coworkers, which eventually exhibit higher levels of emotional exhaustion and express greater intentions of quitting.
Rebecca Knight in her HBR article wrote that playing favourite is unwise and unfair. It might as well put the organisation in danger as it creates a foundation for creating a dysfunctional team around the workplace. Therefore, it is requisite to create policies to ensure workplace favouritism is no longer practiced. Leaders can also do the following strategies as proposed by Knight: