What is favoritism in the workplace: Definition and top strategies to eliminate it

11 min read
What is favoritism in the workplace: Definition and top strategies to curb favoritism in the workplace
What is favoritism in the workplace: Definition and top strategies to curb favoritism in the workplace

In the bustling corridors of corporate landscapes, where professionalism and meritocracy are supposed to reign supreme, a subtle yet pervasive force often lurks – favoritism in the workplace.

It's a phenomenon that transcends industries and organizational hierarchies, leaving a trail of discontent and disillusionment in its wake.

As we delve into the intricacies of favoritism at work, we uncover its far-reaching consequences – from eroding employee morale and fostering a toxic work environment to hindering career growth and perpetuating inequality.

The allure of playing favorites can be enticing for those in positions of power, whether it's a manager subtly promoting a protege or a leader showing undue favor to one employee, a team member or a select few. Such actions not only undermine the principles of fairness and equality but also jeopardize the very fabric of a cohesive and thriving workplace.

In this blog, we aim to shed light on the various manifestations of workplace favoritism, the factors that fuel its existence, and the profound impact it has on individuals and organizational dynamics.

What is favoritism in the workplace?

Workplace favoritism is a covert practice where certain employees receive preferential treatment over others, often based on personal relationships, biases, or subjective preferences rather than objective performance criteria. It undermines the principles of fairness and equality, fostering a toxic work environment and impeding professional growth for those not in the favored employee' circle.

Whether it's a manager promoting a protege or a leader showing one employee undue favor, favoritism can erode employee morale and compromise the integrity of the workplace, perpetuating inequality and hindering the pursuit of a truly equitable professional environment.

Common causes of favoritism in the workplace

Workplace favoritism is not as uncommon as it seems, and there are plenty of reasons that it could be happening in your organization as well. Let’s take a look at them.

1. Personal relationships

One of the primary causes of favoritism is the influence of personal relationships. Managers may exhibit bias towards employees with whom they share personal connections, whether through friendships, family ties, or social networks.

2. Similarity bias

Human nature tends to favor those who share similar characteristics, backgrounds, or interests. Managers may unconsciously show preferential treatment to employees or family members who mirror their own traits, leading to a bias against those who differ.

3. Performance misjudgment

Managers may fall into the trap of favoritism by incorrectly evaluating an employee's performance. If a manager has preconceived notions or biases about a favorite employee, they might misinterpret or overlook the achievements and contributions of certain individuals, favoring others without a solid basis.

4. Perceived competence

Employees who are perceived as more competent or skilled than other employees may receive preferential treatment. This bias can arise from a manager's subjective judgment rather than an objective assessment of an individual's abilities and accomplishments.

5. Loyalty and obedience

Managers might favor employees who exhibit unwavering loyalty or unquestioning obedience, valuing compliance over independent thinking. This preference can lead to a skewed distribution of opportunities and rewards, disadvantaging those who may question the status quo or offer alternative perspectives.

6. Social influence

Employees who have strong social influence within the organization, such as being well-liked by peers or having a charismatic personality, may be favored by managers. This favoritism can stem from the manager’s desire to align with popular individuals, regardless of their actual job performance.

7. Seniority bias

Employees with longer tenure in the organization may receive favoritism based on their seniority rather than their current performance or potential. Managers might feel obligated to reward long-serving employees, which can create an unfair advantage for senior leadership over newer, potentially more qualified team members.

Favoritism and bias in the workplace

The manager irritated with a team member
Favoritism and bias in the workplace

In today's corporate landscape, the issue of favoritism and bias in the workplace is a pertinent concern that can significantly impact organizational dynamics poor performance and employee morale. Here, we delve into a comprehensive understanding of these concepts and their implications:

  1. Defining favoritism and bias: Favoritism refers to the unfair treatment of employees based on personal preferences rather than merit or performance. Bias, on the other hand, involves unconscious prejudices that influence decision-making processes.
  2. Forms of favoritism: Favoritism can manifest in various forms, including preferential treatment in promotions, assignments, or resource allocation. It may also involve granting privileges or leniency to certain individuals based on personal relationships.
  3. Causes of favoritism: Several factors contribute to the prevalence of favoritism in the workplace, such as personal relationships between managers and employees, similarity bias where individuals favor those who resemble them, and performance misjudgment due to preconceived notions.
  4. Impact on morale and productivity: Favoritism breeds a sense of inequality and resentment among non-favored employees, leading to decreased morale and engagement levels. This, in turn, adversely affects productivity and overall organizational performance.
  5. Consequences of bias: Unconscious biases, such as affinity bias or halo effect, can result in unfair treatment and hinder diversity and inclusion efforts. This can lead to a lack of diverse perspectives and innovation within the workforce.
  6. Mitigating favoritism and bias: Organizations must implement proactive measures to address favoritism and bias effectively. This includes promoting transparency in decision-making processes, providing unconscious bias training for managers, and establishing clear criteria for promotions and rewards.
  7. Fostering inclusive culture: Cultivating an inclusive work environment where all employees feel valued and respected is essential in combating favoritism and bias. Encouraging open communication, soliciting feedback, and promoting diversity initiatives can help foster a culture of fairness and equality.
  8. Legal implications: Organizations must also be mindful of the legal implications of favoritism and bias. Discriminatory practices based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, or age can result in costly legal repercussions and damage to the company's reputation.

What are the negative effects of favoritism in the workplace?

Employee quitting office in a hurry
What are the negative effects of favoritism in the workplace?

Here are the top ways workplace favoritism negatively affects an organization.

  • Decreased morale: Favoritism can create an environment where non-favored employees feel undervalued and demotivated. This decline in morale can spread throughout the workforce, affecting overall job satisfaction, decreased productivity, and engagement.
  • Reduced productivity: When employees perceive that promotions, opportunities, and recognition are not based on merit, it can lead to a lack of motivation and a decline in productivity. Frustration and resentment among such employees may hinder collaborative efforts and teamwork.
  • High turnover rates: Workplace favoritism can contribute to higher employee turnover rates. Individuals who feel unfairly treated or overlooked may seek better opportunities elsewhere, impacting the organization's stability and continuity.
  • Impaired team dynamics: A favored employee may enjoy special treatment and privileges, creating divisions within the team. This can disrupt teamwork and collaboration, as non-favored individuals may feel excluded or hesitant to contribute their best efforts.
  • Inequality and discrimination: Favoritism perpetuates inequality and can be perceived as a form of discrimination. This not only damages the professional growth of individuals who are not in the favored circle but also undermines the principles of fairness and diversity within the workplace.
  • Negative organizational culture: A culture of favoritism erodes trust and damages the overall reputation of an organization. It can create a toxic work environment where employees are more focused on personal connections than on contributing to the collective success of the company.
  • Legal consequences: If favoritism leads to discrimination against a particular employee, it may result in legal consequences for the organization. Lawsuits and legal actions can arise if employees believe they have been treated unfairly based on factors such as race, gender, or other protected characteristics.
  • Stifled innovation: Favoritism can stifle innovation as non-favored employees may feel their ideas and contributions are not valued. This can lead to a lack of creative solutions and hinder the organization's ability to innovate and stay competitive.
  • Increased stress levels: The presence of favoritism can increase stress levels among employees who feel they are constantly being overlooked or unfairly judged. This heightened stress can lead to burnout, decreased mental health, and higher absenteeism rates, further affecting organizational performance.

How to address favoritism in the workplace?

Addressing favoritism in the workplace requires a proactive and transparent approach. Firstly, organizations should establish clear and unbiased criteria for performance evaluations, promotions, and other opportunities. Implementing structured feedback mechanisms can provide a more objective basis for recognizing and rewarding employee contributions.

Additionally, fostering open communication channels allows employees to voice concerns without fear of reprisal. Training programs on diversity, equity, and inclusion can raise awareness about the negative impact of favoritism and promote a fair workplace culture.

Leaders need to lead by example, demonstrating impartiality and fairness in their decisions. Establishing a formal grievance resolution process ensures that concerns are addressed promptly and are treated fairly. By cultivating a culture of transparency, accountability, and equal opportunities, organizations can mitigate the detrimental effects of favoritism, fostering a more inclusive and productive work environment.

How to prevent favoritism as a manager: 5 Strategies to try in 2024

By adopting the following strategies, managers can proactively prevent favoritism, creating a workplace culture that values fairness, equality, and professional growth for all employees in 2024 and beyond.

Establish transparent policies

Implement clear and transparent policies for performance evaluation, promotions, and opportunities. Ensure that these criteria are communicated effectively to all employees, leaving no room for ambiguity. Transparent guidelines help in fostering a fair and merit-based work environment.

Provide equal opportunities

Actively strive to provide equal opportunities for professional development and growth to motivate employees. Distribute challenging and special assignments, mentorship, social events, and training programs fairly among team members. This ensures that everyone has a chance to showcase their skills and contribute to the organization's success.

Encourage open communication

Create an environment where open communication is not only welcomed but encouraged. Foster a culture where employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns about favoritism. Regular check-ins, team meetings, and feedback sessions can provide platforms for dialogue and resolution.

Implement diversity and inclusion initiatives

Embrace diversity and inclusion initiatives to promote a culture that values differences. By celebrating diversity and actively working to eliminate biases, managers can contribute to a more inclusive workplace where employees are recognized and appreciated for their unique contributions.

Lead by example

Managers play a crucial role in setting the tone for the workplace culture. Demonstrate fairness and impartiality in decision-making processes. Avoid showcasing preferential treatment, and be mindful of personal biases. Leading by example helps establish a culture where merit and competence are valued above personal connections.

What are the three tips for handling favoritism as an employee?

Employees giving feedback
What are the three tips for handling favoritism as an employee?

By following these tips, you can keep your calm and manage workplace favoritism.

  • Focus on professionalism: Despite favoritism challenges, prioritize professionalism. Showcase your skills, deliver results, and consistently demonstrate your value through your work.
  • Seek feedback and clarification: Actively seek feedback on your performance and, if favoritism concerns arise, approach your manager or HR for clarification on decision-making processes.
  • Document achievements: Maintain a record of your accomplishments and positive feedback. This documentation can be valuable during performance reviews, demonstrating your contributions and ensuring recognition despite potential favoritism.

Top 10 signs to detect favoritism in the workplace

The following signs are tell-tell signs of favoritism in your workplace.

  1. Unequal opportunities: Noticeable disparities in task assignments, projects, or opportunities, with certain individuals consistently receiving more challenging or high-profile assignments.
  2. Promotions based on personal connections: Regular instances where promotions or career advancements seem to align more with personal relationships than merit or qualifications.
  3. Exclusive access: Some employees consistently have exclusive access to decision-makers or key information, leading to a perception of unfair preferential treatment.
  4. Inconsistent application of rules: A noticeable lack of consistency in the enforcement of workplace rules and policies, with exceptions made for certain individuals.
  5. Lack of transparency: Decisions about promotions, projects, or rewards are made with minimal transparency, leaving employees uninformed about the rationale behind choices.
  6. Isolation of non-favored employees: Non-favored employees may feel isolated or excluded from important discussions, events, or social gatherings within the workplace.
  7. Unjust recognition: Recognition and praise are disproportionately directed towards a specific group of employees, regardless of their actual contributions or achievements.
  8. Frequent conflicts of interest: Regular instances where decision-makers have personal relationships with those benefiting from their decisions, creating conflicts of interest.
  9. Selective information sharing: Key information about projects, opportunities, or organizational changes is selectively shared with a chosen few, excluding other deserving team members.
  10. Perceived bias in feedback: Non-favored employees consistently receive less constructive feedback or face unwarranted criticism, contributing to a negative perception of favoritism in performance evaluations.

Role of manager effectiveness surveys in identifying and curbing favoritism

Manager prepping for new strategies
Role of manager effectiveness surveys in identifying and curbing favoritism

Manager effectiveness surveys play a crucial role in identifying and addressing favoritism within the workplace. These surveys provide a structured mechanism for employees to confidentially express their perceptions of managerial behavior, including potential biases and favoritism.

By seeking feedback on managerial practices, organizations can uncover patterns of unequal or unfair treatment and assess the impact on employee morale and engagement. Specific survey questions can be tailored to gauge perceptions of fairness, transparency in decision-making, and the consistency of opportunities provided to team members.

The insights garnered from manager effectiveness surveys empower organizations to take targeted action.

If favoritism is identified as a prevalent issue, interventions such as additional training, leadership development programs, or policy adjustments can be implemented. Furthermore, surveys serve as a proactive tool for preventing favoritism, as they foster a culture of transparency and accountability.

Examples of favoritism in the workplace

These scenarios are not hard to spot and are often how favoritism is promoted in organizations.

  • Promotion of friends over merit: When a manager consistently promotes or favors friends within the team, regardless of their qualifications or job performance, it creates a perception of bias and undermines the merit-based promotion system.
  • Exclusive project assignments: Assigning high-impact projects or desirable assignments consistently to a particular individual, often due to personal connections rather than a fair evaluation of skills and competence.
  • Preferential treatment in workload: Allotting lighter workloads, flexible schedules, pay raises, or special considerations to certain employees based on personal relationships rather than equal distribution of responsibilities and opportunities.
  • Undue recognition and praise: Singling out specific individuals for excessive praise and recognition, irrespective of their actual contributions, while overlooking the achievements of other deserving team members.


Favoritism in the workplace remains a pervasive issue with far-reaching, negative consequences everywhere. Recognizing the signs, addressing root causes, and implementing preventive measures are essential steps.

Through transparent policies, open communication, and a commitment to fairness, organizations can foster a culture that values merit over personal connections, ensuring a more inclusive and thriving workplace.


1. Why is there favoritism in the workplace?

Favoritism often arises due to personal biases, such as managers' preferences for employees they have personal relationships with or those who share similar characteristics. Additionally, favoritism can stem from subjective judgments of employee performance, or perceived competence. These factors create an environment where certain employees receive preferential treatment over others, leading to feelings of inequality and discontent among the workforce.

2. Is favoritism a form of discrimination?

Yes, favoritism can indeed be a form of discrimination in the workplace. When employees are either treated fairly or unfairly based on personal preferences rather than merit or objective criteria, it perpetuates inequality and undermines the principles of fairness and equal opportunity. Favoritism can result in disadvantages for non-favored employees, impacting their career advancement, job satisfaction, and overall well-being.

3. How can employees identify favoritism in the workplace?

Employees can identify favoritism by observing patterns of preferential treatment, such as certain individuals consistently receiving better opportunities, promotions, or recognition without clear justification based on performance or qualifications. They can also look for signs of bias in decision-making processes, such as inconsistent application of policies or managers showing undue leniency towards specific employees.

4. How can organizations address favoritism and promote fairness in the workplace?

Organizations can address favoritism by implementing transparent and merit-based systems for promotions, assignments, and rewards. Providing training on unconscious bias awareness to managers and employees can help mitigate the impact of personal prejudices. Additionally, fostering a culture of openness and accountability where feedback is encouraged can promote fairness and equal treatment for all employees.

5. How does favoritism impact diversity and inclusion efforts within organizations?

Favoritism undermines diversity and inclusion efforts by perpetuating inequalities and limiting opportunities for underrepresented groups. When certain individuals receive preferential treatment based on personal relationships or similarities, it hinders the advancement of diverse talent and creates barriers to inclusion. Addressing favoritism is essential for creating a more equitable workplace where all employees feel valued and have equal opportunities for growth and success.



Santhosh is a Sr. Content Marketer with 2+ years of experience. He loves to travel solo (though he doesn’t label them as vacations, they are) to explore, meet people, and learn new stories.