Do You Feel Like Your Boss Plays Favorites?

Do you ever feel like your boss is playing favorites? We all can fall into the trap of thinking our boss prefers our co-workers at one time or another, or that our bosses hate us. It is everyone, right? Not just me? Ok, good. I was worried for a second there. But favoritism in the office can be a real issue. So, how do you deal with the perceptions and realities of favoritism?

Tom Fox is the Vice President for Leadership and Innovation at the Partnership for Public Service. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER show that before you can deal with favoritism you first have to define what favoritism looks like in the office.

How do you define favoritism?

"The Merit Systems Protection Board defines favoritism, as when a supervisor has his or her decisions influenced by a personal relationship with someone at work. This relationship doesn’t necessarily have to be inappropriate, but it gives someone a leg up based on the connections they have been able to make outside the workplace," said Fox.

How is favoritism different from networking?

"When employees are simply good at their job, the perceived favoritism is merit based. We want to see that reward reflected in the federal workforce sot that employees are rewarded not just for hard work, but for results as well. Favoritism is something different. Favoritism is decisions made based on personal relationships rather than professional results," said Fox.

Why is favoritism such a big issue?

"The perceptions of favoritism, either real or imagined, is a real challenge for any federal leader. You may be unknowingly playing favorites. Even if your people suspect that you are playing favorites, it can have a real effect on employee engagement, recruiting and hiring and ultimately productivity," said Fox.

How do you deal with the perception of favoritism?

"First, leaders really need to try to asses their behavior. Are they doing anything that would suggest that they are playing favorites?" said Fox.

Fox said leaders should ask themselves:

  1. "How much time do you spend with your employees? There may be legitimate reasons for spending more time with some employees than others based on high priority initiatives or mission critical activities, but on average you should find yourself spending about the same amount time with every employee. A good way to do that is to schedule regular check-ins. Having those check-ins sends a very public signal to your entire team that you are trying to treat everyone equally."
  2. "You can not be an effective leader of your team unless you are taking stock of your folks, how they are performing and how they are developing? You can only do that with regular interactions. You need to meet with people individually and you need to walk the walls. So they will see you and know you as well."
  3. "Make your decisions clear. When you labor over a decision, the process and the approach that you’ve taken, the reasons and the merit behind your decisions are clear, but they won’t be clear to your people unless you have clearly spelled things out for them. You have to figure out what is appropriate versus inappropriate to share, but whether it is in team meetings or the regular check-ins, it is really worth your while as a leader to clarify the criteria for making the decision.. People may not alway agree with your decisions, but they will at least be satisfied that you have made clear about how you are going about the decision making process."

Metrics Matter Most?

"You need to manage your employees performance. There is nothing worse than giving people a false sense of where they stand, how they are performing and how they are behaving. Not just through the regular performance management system, but through your regular interactions with employees, it is vital that you have really honest one-on-one performance conversations with each member of your team. Make it clear to your employees their potential for a new assignment or a new opportunity. Try to avoid any perception of inequity and you can only do that if you are regularly having those performance conversations. You don’t want someone developing different expectations about their future than you are," said Fox.

How do you deal with favoritism at work?

*Photo Credit: M. Dolly

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