How To Deal With Favoritism at Work

Businessman and business woman talking in the office.
filadendron / Getty Images

Favoritism runs rampant in offices across the country. Whether you’ve received special treatment from a friendly boss or have watched an undeserving coworker get more opportunities, people sometimes allow their own biases to sneak into the workplace. 

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While we all know it happens, few of us ever decide to speak up. For some employees, it may be because they don’t want to ruffle feathers, while for others it may be because they enjoy being favored. Either way, preferential treatment of one worker in the office over another can cause animosity and frustration.

If you do feel that your boss is giving unfair treatment to an employee, you should think about taking action. Read on to find out how our experts say to deal with favoritism at work.

What Is Favoritism?

“Workplace favoritism is a preference for something besides the work outcomes,” said Karolina Kijowska at PhotoAiD. She noted that it often “breeds a toxic workplace culture that leads to the loss of top talent, so it should be addressed by HR and management.” 

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Recognizing favoritism, however, can be tricky. It may be that “a favorited employee gets more than others in the same position even if their results do not prove their exceptional abilities.” 

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Recognizing the Signs

Favoritism may be subtle or it can be overt, but there are certain warning signs.

“One of the main signs of favoritism is double standards. If you see an employee getting away with murder while your boss is pulling others up for the same behavior, this is a sure sign of favoritism,” said Emma Loker, a mental health specialist and part of the team at Healthy Minded.

Another red flag is when a superior only listens to “their favorite employees’ opinions in conferences and meetings, leaving other people’s great ideas unheard and unacknowledged,” according to Loker.

Carl Ashfield, owner of Sell My Watches UK, notes that the following may all be strong indications of favoritism in your workplace:

  • “One person or a small group of people consistently get better treatment than others.
  • Favorites are given special privileges, such as access to better resources or more opportunities for growth and development.
  • Favorites are given better work assignments or responsibilities.
  • Favorites are protected from criticism or negative feedback, even when they make mistakes.
  • Favorites are promoted or rewarded more frequently than others.”
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When To Take Action

It is important to note that not all perceived preferential treatment amounts to favoritism. “The number one rule of dealing with favoritism is identifying if it is even favoritism, to begin with,” Loker said. 

She recommends, “facing some hard truths and asking yourself challenging questions, such as: ‘do I work as hard as X?’ ‘do they deserve the promotion more than me?’ and ‘what could they be doing that I’m not?'” 

If a person deserves recognition or a promotion because of their hard work, it likely isn’t a result of favoritism, it is simply a reward for their work ethic. If, however, there is unfair or inconsistent treatment, then it is time to speak up and take action. 

Speak Up and Make Changes

Ashfield said that it is important for employees to address favoritism at work and recommends that an aggrieved employee:

  • “Talk to the person who you think is being favored. Let them know how you feel and why you think favoritism is happening. Be open and honest in your conversation.
  • Talk to your manager or HR representative. If the situation is making you uncomfortable or impacting your ability to do your job, it’s important to let your manager know. They may be able to help address the situation and ensure that everyone is being treated fairly.
  • Document the situation. If you have evidence of favoritism, such as emails or conversations that show unequal treatment, it’s important to keep a record of it. This can be helpful if you need to escalate the situation to HR or upper management.”
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What To Do When You Are the Favored

In some cases, you may be the recipient of preferential treatment. While at first you may enjoy the perks, it may not be worth the price you will ultimately pay with your coworkers. 

Kijowska cautioned favored employees to “keep in mind that it’s not a good state for your career. Even if you get some great work opportunities now, all your career development depends on the person who favors you, limiting your growth to this one organization.” 

She added, “also, vague contact with colleagues narrows your network. To escape this trap, discuss what you observed with your manager in a 1-on-1 meeting. An honest conversation always works better than vague signals like avoiding extra responsibilities.”

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