If You Show Favoritism…

...You Might Be a Bad Boss

If you ever talk to a parent of multiple children and ask them if they have a favorite of the bunch, they’ll always tell you “No. I love all my children equally.”

But they’re lying.

Having a favorite child doesn’t mean you love one and hate the others.  It simply means that there is a special connection in at least one area that makes them connect just a little bit differently and closer to you.

It’s normal.  And if you’re a smart parent, you’ll never share this with your children.

Even Jesus played favorites.  Out of all the people who wanted to hang out with him, he hand-picked 12.  And from those 12 he had a special group of favorites, Peter, James, and John.  And according to John, HE was “the disciple that Jesus loved.”

But of course you know that there is a dark side to favoritism.  It happens when you happen to be the non-favorite.  In the workplace this is a huge issue.  And if you SHOW favoritism, you’ve created a huge mess.

There are two types of favoritism.  Legitimate and perceived.  Of the two, perceived favoritism is the worst one.  Let’s look at them.

Legitimate favoritism.  This is when you allow the normal special affinity you might have for one of your direct reports (their promptness, neatness, thoroughness, etc.) become known by overtly calling attention to it (“Hey why don’t you guys work hard like Jake does?”) or by giving plum assignments to Jake which will of course get employees to start referring to Jake as the “golden child” and resenting him.  Now of course if Jake is a stellar employee, he should be used as the standard of quality and also be given challenging assignments that align with his abilities but how you do this and how you communicate this will impact the reactions of the other employees.

Perceived favoritism.  Perception is reality in the eye of the perceiver.  If your employees believe you have a “golden child” they will look for examples of how you treat them compared to the rest of the team.  Sadly, you might only call attention to that employee once but since the rest of the team is watching for it, they’ll see the “favoritism” in action and make a note of it.  This issue may never be resolved but at least if you’re aware of it, you can work hard to prevent it from becoming a habit.

Issues Cause By Favoritism:

  • Apathy
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Lack of trust
  • Underperformance
  • Back-stabbing
  • Loss of your credibility

How to Prevent it From Becoming an Issue

Awareness! Start paying attention to:

  • How much time you spend with each employee
  • Who you give good assignments to
  • Employees who you have something in common with (military background, sports, hobbies, etc.). Are you subtly affinitizing with them?

In my experience, most bosses swear they don’t play favorites.  If it comes across to employees like they do then it’s up to the boss to make the adjustments.  A workforce that feels favoritism will absolutely underperform.

As the boss, YOU have the responsibility to fix this.


I Have a Bad Boss. What Can I Do About It?

If you’ve never had a bad boss, trust me, one day you will.  Those of us who have had one (or many) have felt the pain and agony and frustration that the bad boss causes.  I’ll be addressing bad boss behaviors as part of my focus but first it might be a good idea to talk about how we ought to handle having the bad boss.

Option #1:  Overlook the bad boss’s behavior and focus on the task at hand.  Depending on what the behavior is, we might have to take this option.  Depending on the health of the economy or the scarcity of jobs at the time or the career goals you might have, simply focusing on the task and trying to compartmentalize the bad boss behavior might be your best choice.  During my 15 years in the Navy, I had no choice but to do this.  Without the positional authority to do otherwise, I simply gritted my teeth and pushed on.  Yes, it was stressful and yes I hated Mondays but what else could I do?  Now this does not apply to behavior that is illegal or immoral. You have a responsibility to report it and have no obligation to take it!  If the behavior falls into this category, be sure to document the behavior accurately and contact HR immediately.

Option #2: Confront the bad boss.  This option takes guts but it can work.  If you’re going to do it, be sure to have your documentation current and be prepared to state facts, not opinions or perceptions.  One option is this:

To the Boss who discounts my ideas in front of my peers

When you discounted my ideas in front of my peers at today’s staff meeting

I felt insulted

Because my ideas are done out of concern for our company and my concern to add value

What I’d prefer is that you criticize me or my ideas in private

Because I’d rather not be embarrassed in front of my peers

What do you think?

The idea here is to state facts and to be assertive.  Also, be sure to do this in private as well and do it in person, not by email or text!

Option #3:  Quit your bad boss.  I know it’s not always possible but if this relationship is causing you mental or physical stress, it might not be worth it to stay. If you’ve made the decision to leave, be sure you have at least a few strong job leads.  Also, don’t make a big deal when you head out the door.  As much as possible you should leave with grace and dignity and hopefully at peace with your decision.  Your bad boss will eventually cause their own demise and there is no need to make a big production as you move on.  If you felt this way, you should have tried Option #2 at least once.  Then of course, let it all go.  No sense allowing the bad boss to remain alive in your memory or your attitude.  This is harder than it sounds.  Don’t ask me how I know this!  Also, don’t mention the bad boss when you get your new position.  Start fresh.

Having a bad boss doesn’t need to be a rite of passage but it seems like we all have to experience it at least once.  I’ll be working on preventing bad boss behavior but do your best to hang in there and make the most of the opportunity.  And NEVER let your experience make you a bad boss!

The Worst Boss of All Time

Actually just the first of many...

In the summer of 1982, just days after my high school graduation, I began a six-month program in dental laboratory technology. Dental lab technology is the study and practice of building dental devices such as crowns, bridges, and dentures.  This fit nicely into my interest and skills in building model airplanes and dioramas.  Part of the program involved doing a short internship in a local dental lab.  I was assigned to work with a dentist named Cordell Riley at his facility, Modern Denture Institute in Orange, CA.

There was nothing modern about MDI and under Dr. Riley, it was more like an institution than an institute.  MDI boasted that it could make a full set of dentures in one day for $200.00.  To accomplish this, sanitary conditions were questionable at best, materials cheap, and of course, at a mere $10.00 per day as a salary for me, so were labor costs!  This was a modern-day sweatshop.  I worked from 8 am to 6pm with no breaks or even a lunch break.  The pace was fast and Dr. Riley micro-managed all of us.  When there was a brief break in the action, I was assigned other duties such as picking up his wife from the beauty parlor.  Mercifully, the internship finally ended and as I picked up my last, tiny check, Dr. Riley quipped that I should have paid HIM for the experience I got.  What I got was my first taste of what it was like to work with a BAD BOSS!

But that’s me.  I’m sure you have your own Worst Boss Ever story.  I’m going to start a series on bad bosses and how to deal with them.  If you have a bad boss, I’ll offer coping strategies.  If you ARE the bad boss, I’ll hopefully help you see what you need to do to improve.

Life is too short to be miserable at work.  Since bad bosses account for most of the misery folks experience at work, I think we ought to do something about it.  Are you in?