Favoritism in the Work Place – A Toxic Vice


While I was writing this article about a day in an IT Consultant’s life, another aspect of work life sprang to life in my mind. Corporate Favoritism. And although it is a real problem, not much is usually spoken about it.

It is exactly what it sounds like. Favoritism is favoring one person over another on merits other than professional. If you have been out there for some time, as a part of the office going workforce, chances are that you have been on one end or the other of favoritism.

Perhaps you are the one who is always assigned important projects while your colleague is never given the opportunity. It feels good and feeds your self-importance as long as you are at the receiving end. But how do you think others think of you? The Boss’s pet. It fuels animosity among peers which may bring down the collective productivity. If you say you have a perfectly harmonious workplace not affected by any kind of favoritism, lucky you.

In my workplace however, favoritism rules the show.

  • Region based/college alumni: It sounds as bad as it is. I have seen managers favoring people hailing from their states, hometowns or the people from the same college as them. Indians and Americans alike, if you are a homeboy or girl, your prospects are better. Mind you, it perfectly makes sense to befriend a person who is of a similar background as you. Your tastes perhaps will match, you will support the same team, you food habit will be similar. These are strong incentives to bond. But these similarities do not help the professional prospects, they are strictly personal. And under any condition should not be the reasons to bestow professional favors. But more often than not it happens.

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  • Language: It is a typical Indian characteristic, to favor people who speak or understand your native language. Perhaps people find it easier to explain an assignment in their native tongue than in English! But rather than acknowledging the problem and working toward the solution, they just keep surrounding themselves with people who speak their language.
  • Comfort Zone: A manager joined the team newly. He then brought along with him people from his past projects. This is a common scenario where I work. While it is of no surprise to want to work with people you know well and work with well, it is wrong to not give others opportunities. And unless there is fair opportunities for everyone, the whole team falls short. Favored people feeling smug and the others feeling dejected.
  • Personal encroaching Professional: Favoring a friend or family, you may know it as mere nepotism, but to me it has far more importance. I have seen people getting good ratings, better assignments day after day, year after year just because they are personally acquainted with the boss.

I have seen bosses expecting personal favors from employees just because they gave them a good rating in the past appraisal cycle. I have seen people spending all their time transporting their bosses’ children wherever they wanted to go and ending up with the highest rating.

So yeah, it ranges from subtle to blatant and it is present almost everywhere. And sometimes it is so sneaky that if you are not keeping an active eye on it, it may creep up on you too. It does not really sound so bad and perhaps that is why there is hardly any measure to prevent it or stop it. And the chance of backfiring is so high that people feel better to quit than to stay back and fight. Indeed, this is the number one reason for attrition in most organizations.

Is there then nothing you can do if your workplace is ridden with it? If the problem is not as outrageous as my last example, perhaps your pleas are going to be falling on deaf ears. I have tried and heard a lot of “deal with it” advices. Sometimes I have even heard “suck it up and be nicer to your boss”. Once a colleague facing the same problem complained that the boss told him he was simply jealous of the person he thought was being favored by the boss.

If you are surprised by the lack of a solution in this post as you’d perhaps expected, let me tell you, so far, I have not found out a full proof formula that works if you are a victim of favoritism. While your boss may be otherwise sensible and willing to sit down with you to discuss, some may simply consider themselves as the principal of a high school and behave accordingly. While some may be willing to recognize the problem and work towards it, some may be frantically trying to drown your voice.

But it is wise, from my experience, to reflect within to understand the problem and work toward it, by whichever way it ticks the person you are dealing with, rather than sulking inside and losing morale. Self-respect is a good thing – too much patience squashes it.

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