Impacts of Favoritism in Workplace

According to Business Dictionary, favoritism is the preferential treatment of a person or group of people over other people or groups in the same unit, such as a classroom, social group or workplace. Favoritism has a negative effect on workplace morale and in some instances can be illegal, especially if the treatment is based upon racial preferences or in exchange for sexual favors (Business Dictionary, n.d.). Favoritism in the workplace is counter-productive and, in some cases, illegal. When management assigns responsibility or gives promotions based on favoritism, the company is not always getting the most qualified person in a job. Certain forms of favoritism, such as soliciting sexual favors for job advancement, are illegal throughout the United States (Anderson, n.d.). Basically, favoritism is favoring a person not because of his/her performance and abilities, but rather because of personal likes and dislikes. Favoritism can take form of recruiting on the basis of acquaintance, honoring, or offering awarding contracts. A related concept is patronage that implies giving public service jobs to those who may have helped elect the person who has the power of appointment. In this paper, I will discuss the history and the background of favoritism, its types, critical legal and ethical issues regarding this topic, laws and ethical codes that relate to the issues, and present a plan of action to deal with the problem, detailing what has been done or initiated, or how the situation was resolved.


History of Favoritism

History of favoritism involves numerous subjects that lie in various fields. Favoritism touches upon psychology, sociology, and management and is a subject of many research studies. For instance, psychologists and sociologists study socio-cognitive constructs that have significant impact on the organizational behavior. Neo-institutionalism theories of organizations have further analyzed the ways in which ideas and symbols are used to structure and legitimate business cultures and spread influence.

Somewhat improbably given the subject matter, cognitive theories of social movements and revolutions have become paradigmatic, even among Marxist scholars, who are traditionally among the least individualistic of social theorists. These intellectual developments, spread as they are across a variety of disciplines, mean that constructs such as attitudes, thoughts, and beliefs have proved useful indeed for explaining behavior that clearly falls outside of the original domain of cognitive psychology; in this case, behavior that is collective, coordinated, and downright political.

It was a widespread assumption of early researches of interactions and relationships in groups that members of such communities as Jews and Blacks had to assimilate society's biases against them and demonstrate a kind of inferiority complex at the group level. This was also the conclusion reached by Clark and Clark (1947) in their famous studies of African-American children's preferences for White dolls. A series of laboratory studies demonstrated convincingly that assignment to high-status or powerful groups leads people to display in-group favoritism, whereas assignment to low-status or powerless groups produces out-group favoritism.

Social identity theory was developed to account for the initially unexpected finding that minimal laboratory groups with no history of interaction displayed in-group favoritism with regard to social stereotyping, performance evaluation, and resource allocation. Drawing extensively on Festinger's social comparison theory (1954), it was argued that because people need to evaluate themselves favorably and because group membership is an important constituent of the self concept, people tend to evaluate their in-groups more favorably than they evaluate other groups. Thus, according to social identity theory, there is a general drive to enhance individual and collective self-esteem by making favorable comparisons between the in-group and relevant out-groups.

Types of Favoritism


The concept of nepotism refers to the practice of hiring family members regardless of their professional qualities. It may not necessarily mention that the hired person is completely unqualified. Hired relatives can meet all the requirements and may become perfect employees. However, often it is not the case why they are hired. When the employee is not qualified to perform the job, the nepotism becomes counter-productive. It could seriously affect performance and profitability of the company and also damage the reputation of both the employer and unreasonably hired employee.


Cronyism is the other side of nepotism. It refers to hiring friends regardless of their professionalism. The major issue related to this type of favoritism implies that hired friends assume that they stand a special position in the company. Because of their relationship with the executive of the company, they expect some privileges, such as promotions and wage raises. This inevitably leads to conflict in the collective, as such unfairness cannot be left without a response.

Sexual Favors

The most disgraceful type of favoritism refers to the situation when position or certain advantages in the workplace are obtained in exchange for sexual services. This type of favoritism is not only completely unethical, but also illegal. It is considered as the form of discrimination and often classified as sexual harassment. The employees who experience pressure in the workplace on the basis of sexual harassment can claim that they are discriminated and this would lead to significant consequences not only for the employer, but for the whole company. It is a serious issue, and leaders of organizations have to pay additional attention to it in order to avoid unpleasant complications in the future.


Patronage becomes a round-about way for an executive or manager to engage in nepotism or cronyism. An executive promotes employees he/she trusts into positions of management, and then asks those managers to hire their friends and family members. This kind of favoritism has the potential to spread throughout the company as the executive brings more of his/her favorite employees into positions of authority.

Legal and Ethical Issues of Favoritism

Ethics addresses many topics, but fairness seems to be one of the most important subjects. All types of favoritism presented above interfere with this concept, as they imply that someone would receive certain advantage not necessarily being worth of it. In public sphere, such concepts as favoritism, cronyism, and nepotism also impair the common well-being. When someone obtains a position owing to certain connections rather than because of the professional qualities, the work that this person performs for public needs may become useless. Moreover, because favoritism is often disguised, such practice distorts the transparency that should be part of the recruitment process.

One of the biggest issues associated with favoritism is the fact that not many people perceive it as a problem. Many people have encountered with favoritism when applying for job. It often happens that HR managers hire people because the applicants are their friends or members of the family. This process is bidirectional. People address to their relatives when looking for a job in order to get the position more easily. It happens mostly in the private sphere. However, we all know that favoritism is not uncommon in the political sphere, as well. The history is full of examples. John F. Kennedy appointed his brother Robert as attorney general despite the fact, that he might have been not the best candidate for this position. It has almost become a tradition to appoint close associates to major posts. Friends and family can usually be counted on for loyalty, and officeholders are in a good position to know their strengths.

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The first ethical issue that arouses from this kind of situation is competence. The American Civil Service Act was passed in 1883 in large part because so many patronage jobs, down to dogcatcher, were being filled by people whose only qualification for employment was their support for a particular party or candidate. Also, the appearance of favoritism weakens morale in government service, not to mention public faith in the integrity of government.

Reasonable people will differ about the appointment of friends and family in high-level positions, but public officials should be aware that such choices can give the appearance of unfairness. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 state legislatures have found the practice of nepotism troubling enough to enact laws against it. Others may restrict the hiring of relatives or friends in more general conflict-of-interest rules.

Public officials should note that issues related to favoritism refer to not only recruitment processes, but to the more general problem of influence. Council members, mayors, and legislators must make special efforts to ensure that they hear all sides of an issue rather than just relying on the views of the people they know. Further, many conscientious lawmakers have discovered that they must change their patterns of socializing when their work involves many decisions affecting friends and associates. At the least, they may choose to recuse themselves from votes where social relationships may exert undue influence.

Beyond potential legal implications, there are many negative consequences. By not treating everyone equally, a manager is fostering a sense of resentment and separation that can demotivate employees and damage team unity. Also, by focusing attention on particular employees, it's easy to overlook growth opportunities and unique skill sets offered by others.

Smith (2013) adds that by not giving other team members an opportunity to shine, the boss is not allowing the team or company to grow which can cost the company more money in the long run. There's also a chance that the employer may lose good people, if they feel their talents are going unnoticed. Unearned favoritism also leads to the unselected believing that your efforts will not be recognized fairly and that the yardstick for success has nothing to do with performance.

Laws and Ethical Codes Relating to the Issues of Favoritism

Unfortunately, favoritism happens in all forms of employment, including government. There is no law against favoritism; there is a law against discrimination. This means that in order to report case of favoritism a person has to prove that the reason the employers is treating particular people differently is based upon their age/race/sex/disability. While hiring employees, it is very important to be aware of legal issues related to favoritism and discrimination. The most important laws that coordinate the recruitment process are Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For example, EEO includes several categories that are legally protected from discrimination. These categories include race, ethnic origin and color; gender (including pregnant women), age; individuals with mental or physical disabilities; military employees, religion, marital status and sexual orientation (Mathis and Jackson, 2012). According to the United States Department of Education (2006), Americans with Disabilities Act gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided by EEO to individuals on the basis of other categories. ADA also guarantees equal opportunities and treatment in employment, transportation, public accommodations, telecommunications, and State and local government services for people with disabilities (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). Both of these legislatures provide equal conditions of recruitment and imply that favoritism is not encouraged among employers. Let's proceed to the discussion of legal issues related to hiring and selection.

According to Mathis and Jackson (2012), the first type of discrimination related to the employment is referred to situations when either different standard are used in the selection of employees, or when the standard used for this purpose is not related to work. This kind of discrimination is called disparate treatment. Disparate treatment often implies that certain category of employees is required to have special skills or perform substandard functions in contrast to other categories of workers. Another important area of discrimination related to employment is discrimination on the basis of physical and mental health issues. Medical examinations of employees are allowed only when it is job-related and consistent with employee's business needs (Hall, 2009).

Apart from legal issues, there are also ethical considerations related to hiring and selection of employees. Ethics in the field of hiring is based on the combination of such factors as equal respect for all employees, providing job security for employees, providing psychological well-being of employees and correspondence with current legislation related to recruitment and selection. In order to conduct legal and ethical hiring procedure, HR managers must follow a certain code of ethics. This code consists of four major aspects: HR managers must treat all candidates equally; show no discrimination based on race, origin, religious or political views, gender, age, or sexual orientation; do not request candidates to include photos in their resume, and rely only on relevant and job-related information while making hiring decisions.

Plan of Action to Deal with the Problem

People at work often tend to compete to win boss' favor. Favoritism in workplace can seriously impair our notion of fairness and create inequality in responsibility. Eventually it can lead to serious consequences. Leaders who practice favoritism in the workplace have no chance to build a culture of trust. In order to understand how to deal with favoritism in workplace, we have to conduct some research on the culture of work. Any facility is filled with social relationships, but they are not the reason the organization works. The primary purpose of a business or a non-profit organization is to advance its mission. Although friendly working atmosphere is desirable for many employers, if it becomes too overwhelming it can seriously impair business. It is important to remember that when someone joins a group of colleagues at work, they are not necessarily should be best friends. They supposed to be a team whose members have been carefully selected on the basis of their professional skills in order to make contribution to a company and improve its performance.

It might seem like having close relationships at the office is inevitable. In fact, some organizations include a question about having friendly relationships with someone at work as an important factor for predicting highly productive workgroups. People have to socialize and establish their social connections wherever it is possible, including workplace. However, friendly connections formed at the workplace can interfere with work responsibilities. Friends often tend to cover for each other, or expect special treatment in the office in exchange for the personal relationship outside the workplace.

In order to avoid such unpleasant situations, a good leader has to know the ways to limit favoritism. Some companies have strict rules against relationships between employees. Others try to standardize working process in order to distribute responsibilities equally and appropriately. Other organizations transfer employees to different departments on a regular basis, which helps to facilitate the development of new ideas as well as limit favoritism (Libby, 2010). The following paragraphs intend to examine the methods of dealing with favoritism in workplace in detail and present the working framework of limiting favoritism.

If the situation is serious and threatens fair working conditions in the company, first thing to do is turn to human resources managers to address the problem. Providing simple awareness of the problem will be a good start and could be enough to limit the expression of favoritism. However, if HR have doubts regarding the fact of favoritism, it may be useful to gather some evidences first. The important thing to note here is that such way of claiming the issue should not be an excuse for slander. In no case employees should express their personal antipathies covering with the suspicion of favoritism.

Second step in a struggle with favoritism is restructuring work to be more transparent. Openness and sincerity at work helps people to stay calm and encourages them to act the same way. Knowing what working activities other employees are involved in gives less chances for the development of favoritism, as everyone are aware of others' tasks. A great technique is to list current projects and accomplishments on a whiteboard where everyone could see them.

Third thing to do is to keep personal relationships outside the office. Change more of workplace conversations to be about work. If treating every workplace conversation as one about the tasks that are being done and the challenges ahead, it will limit problems with workplace fairness.

Favoritism in workplace can degrade morale and impair motivation of employees. When other people get special, unfair treatment, the situation at work inevitably becomes strained. Eventually, unfairly treated employees may decide to leave the company that does not value them as specialists. Therefore, limiting favoritism in workplace should be a primary priority to any employer who needs a productive and healthy working environment in the company.

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