Social & Interpersonal Skills

How to Spot the Warning Signs of Favoritism at Work

Favoritism is one of the most disheartening issues to cope with at work. Like many other people, you want to work in a fair environment that treats everyone equally.

You may believe you will get ahead on your merits and ethics and expect things to go that way. You might even be a person who wears rose-colored glasses to work when you start a new job.

Discrimination or favoritism at work can break those glasses and your heart if you’re not aware of them. Here’s some information on the signs of favoritism at work. Use it to understand whether the playing field is level the moment you get to work so that you won’t be blindsided.

What Is Workplace Favoritism?

The short definition of favoritism is giving one or more people obvious preferential treatment in the workplace.

The truth is that most people have favorites. They favor some kids and relatives more than others; they like one football team over the other; they prefer chocolate over vanilla. You get the picture.

It’s human nature for people to appreciate some individuals and be less interested in others. However, it becomes an issue when it interferes with business operations and worker morale.

Management staff should operate with integrity and hold a higher work standard than lower-level employees. They’re supposed to remain neutral and use objective processes when managing workers. Unfortunately, personal preferences, special interests, and outside influences sometimes get in the way.

If your boss treats you differently than others, he is playing favoritism.

Related Article: Reasons Your Coworker Gets Away With Everything (And Tips To Deal With It)

Quick Favoritism Stats

Favoritism is one of the most vastly discussed topics in the employment realm. These are some recent statistics on the matter:

  • CBS News says favorites get promoted over other talented, hardworking, and worthy individuals 96 percent of the time. Ouch.
  • Bizfluent says 84 percent of their senior executive survey responders witnessed favoritism in the workplace. Yikes.
  • Paychex says the EEOC has received almost 2 million discrimination complaints since 1997. Oops.

It looks like favoritism and discrimination are considerable problems in the workplace, and they aren’t going away anytime soon.

Why Favoritism Is Bad in the Workplace

Favoritism and its cousin nepotism affect workers negatively over time. They breed a high level of resentment, a lack of motivation, and an eventual departure of employees who work hard and keep things honest. The effect these practices have on workers is similar to what happens when a parent favors one child more than the other.

The unworthy “children” often lash out against unfairness. They may complain outwardly at first and then cease once they realize the F&N is a massive part of the workplace culture.

Next comes the resentment and rebellion, which manifest as:

  • Poor performance
  • Disdain for favorites
  • Offsite rants
  • Increased job searches
  • Flatlined enthusiasm

The third stage is usually the full detachment and resignation of valuable workers. Those workers eventually tire of the underappreciation and their ghostlike existence in the office, and they choose to stop contributing to the firm.

Favoritism isn’t just bad because it causes people to quit, though. Workplaces often have lengthy “ready to work” lists they refer to when jaded employees exit. So no skin off their stones, right? However, favoritism and nepotism can also lead to legal battles that cost businesses money and aggravation in the end.

Media outlets are starving for new stories about discrimination and favoritism. Thus, a corporation that allows such practices to continue might find itself in a news documentary or professional post despite its extensive legal team and abundant monetary resources. It happens all the time.

Favoritism also breeds a new generation of employees who don’t think hard work, high performance, talent, and obedience matter. Such workers tend to form unhealthy cliques and alliances that spill the office tea and sabotage others while they skate by with their friends. People with old-school ethics—who aren’t always biologically older—often feel misplaced in those environments and get pushed out of them.

Causes of Favoritism in the Workplace

Favoritism systems grow into workplaces for multiple reasons. These are some of the top culprits:

It Starts at the Top

Most bad practices start at the top and trickle down to the management staff and peasants. If one executive believes a foul practice is acceptable, everyone else will believe it too, or they’ll be ousted.

One Bad Manager

Sometimes favoritism exists because one manager allows his or her personal interests to interfere with work obligations. This person then misuses the authority by making bias-based business decisions.

The establishment then turns a blind eye because it sees that manager as a personal favorite. See what they did there?

Poor Home Training

Managers and staff members often bring their household behaviors and practices into the workplace. Thus, things like ostracization, favoritism, nepotism and even bullying seep into the environment.

Fear of Retaliation

Favoritism often gets out of hand because workers fail to speak out on the subject. Employees who reference the laws and report mistreatment are often crushed and silenced by cliques and gaslighting practices. Other employees then stifle themselves because they fear being treated like “the example.”

Favoritism and Cliques in the Workplace

Managers elect people who are like them sometimes. Employees with different values and belief systems don’t stand a chance in those situations.

Related Article: 25 Examples Of Good And Bad Work Ethics In Workplace  

Examples of Favoritism in the Workplace

It’s vital to know what favoritism is and isn’t in the workplace. These are some examples:

Not Favoritism: Promoting one worker over the other because he has more experience and better sales numbers.

Blatant Favoritism: Promoting a less-tenured slacker over the top performer because he’s a male with plastic smile prowess.

Not Favoritism: Hiring someone over someone else because she has more job-related skills, a more impressive resume, and experience in the field.

Blatant Favoritism: Hiring a person over a qualified candidate because she’s the boss’s cousin’s sister’s uncle and likes the same football team the CEO likes.

Not Favoritism: Holding all employees accountable to the employee manual and guidelines and disciplining them accordingly.

Blatant Favoritism: Letting some workers violate all manner of rules while disciplining others harshly for the same infractions—or less.

Not Favoritism or Discrimination: Rejecting or removing a job posting or schedule because the reqs were full.

Blatant Discrimination: Rejecting or removing an application or schedule after hiring a candidate because her well-known religious preferences don’t align with someone else’s.

Not Favoritism: Holding fair promotion interviews and choosing the most qualified candidate.

Blatant Favoritism: Promoting a male over a female in a male-dominated industry because he’s one of the male manager’s male friends.

Those instances are excellent signs of favoritism in the workplace, and they happen every day. Workers who feel like they are being discriminated against are more right than they are wrong, but there isn’t too much they can do about it in most workplaces.

Favoritism Warning Signs

  • Massive gossiping
  • Huddles and meetings leaving out certain workers
  • Managers “hanging out” and cackling with specific employees
  • The above-mentioned specific employees receiving special treatment
  • Only certain workers getting assigned to unfavorable tasks
  • Petty snitching practices aimed at the “uncool” employees
  • Promotions going to clique members
  • Hard workers being repainted, demonized, or dehumanized

How to Complain About Favoritism at Work

Your first instinct might be to complain if you notice favoritism in the workplace or see signs of favoritism at work. The complaint processing pecking order is as follows: culprit—> managers —> HR —> higher-ups —> outside organization —> minister of the law. However, you must ask yourself four questions before you do it:

  • Is this job worth complaining about?
  • Will anybody hear me?
  • Am I willing to deal with retaliation?
  • How do I want this situation resolved?

By all means, complain if you want the job and feel like you were cheated out of something. HR representatives, attorneys, and organizations such as the EEOC might assist you. The emphasis is on the word “might” because you never know who has whom in whose pocket.

All three above-mentioned entities can help you if you lack a job, promotion, or schedule, and you feel you didn’t get it because of favoritism or discrimination. But you should only move forward with a battle if you really want the job. Otherwise, it’s unnecessary to waste your energy consulting with external parties.

You can walk away and work on getting a different job where the employer recognizes your value, accommodates you, or treats you as an equal to other employees.

You also have to eyeball the environment to decide whether anyone else will even hear you. Those practices might be so deeply drilled into the organization that no one sees them as a “big deal.” Someone might even accuse you of being overly sensitive or some other such derogatory characteristic.

It’s probably not good to waste your time bucking an organization like that, as your situation might worsen as you work your way to the higher-level personnel. Remember the “trickle” commentary?

According to expert lawyerswhistleblowing employees reported more than 40,000 retaliation cases to the EEOC in 2018 alone. Thus, your coworkers and managers might retaliate against you, even for the slightest one-on-one report of mistreatment.

That means you may experience ostracization, hostility, bullying, ridicule, humiliation, and other things due to your report. In other words, you can expect an increase in the same bad behavior you mentioned in your verbal or formal complaint.

Now you know examples of favouritism in the workplace and what you can do about it if you choose. The purpose of this information isn’t to discourage you from speaking out about mistreatment. It’s to coax you to choose your battles wisely.

Favoritism, nepotism, and discrimination are long-term practices that some workplaces have refined and learned to maneuver well. So be sure to address only the instances that still matter to you. You can leave a bad review and move on if you don’t want the job, promotion, or any pain, suffering, and displacement-related compensation.

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About Author

Founder of With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.

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