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.