How to Manage Favouritism at Work

Table of contents

It's no secret that some people get more breaks than others. But it is surprising how many managers and employees are willing to admit that favouritism exists in today's workplace.

According to a survey by Ovation Incentives, nearly half of all employees believe their boss shows favouritism toward certain people. Favouritism at work can be detrimental to the workplace because it allows for unfairness, inequality, and poor morale among employees. It may cause other employees to feel that they are being mistreated, which could lead them to seek employment elsewhere. 

Better still, we all want to be recognised for our work and skills in previous positions, but what is considered favouritism at work? This post will not only give remedies, but also take you through the process of identifying and establishing a workplace that is efficient, effective and productive.

What is Favouritism in the Workplace?

Favouritism is defined as giving preferential treatment to a person or group of people based on some prior relationship or by making unfair distinctions based on characteristics such as race, sex, age and religion. It can also be defined as bias towards a particular person or group. It is considered a form of discrimination when it occurs in an organization and is considered unethical. 

Favouritism in the workplace might be defined as favouring one person over another. It can occur when a manager or supervisor chooses to listen, speak and communicate with some employees and not others. The favouritism may be based on interpersonal relationships or intellectual abilities, or it may relate to a combination of these factors. Favouritism at work is sometimes referred to as nepotism, a situation where family members are given preferential treatment over other workers.

Favouritism can be unintentional, but it also can be a conscious choice on the part of managers who prefer to hire or promote people they know or like, therefore, manifesting bias. This occurs when someone makes an assumption about another person based on their appearance or behaviour. Yet, bias can cause feelings of resentment and anger towards the person who has been discriminated against.

Problems Caused by Favouritism in the Workplace

Favouritism can negatively impact productivity, as employees will be spending time worrying whether or not they will receive any preferential treatment.

There are several issues associated with favouritism in the workplace:

Lack of motivation

If employees feel that their efforts may go unrecognised, they may become unmotivated and even cynical about their job. 


Employees who are not treated equally may begin to distrust management decisions and could even sabotage projects out of spite for those who receive preferential treatment.

Poor communication

When managers show favouritism towards certain staff members, it can affect communication within teams and between teams since team members may become suspicious of each other's motives when discussing ideas or strategies with others outside their team.

Low morale

Employees who feel they aren't being treated fairly may feel unappreciated and resentful, which can lead to low morale and poor productivity.


Favouritism can be illegal, especially if it results in unequal treatment based on race, religion, gender or age.

Unethical behaviour

If you're giving preferential treatment to some employees over others because of personal reasons rather than merit, you may be encouraging unethical behaviour among your employees.

Poor corporate image

If you have employees who feel that they're being mistreated because of their gender, race or ethnicity, it will reflect poorly on your company's reputation. Poor corporate image can cause a loss of customers, leading to lower sales numbers and less profit.

How to Deal with Favouritism in the Workplace

The key to dealing with favouritism is recognising it and then taking action to address it. It's important to note that favouritism should ideally be prevented, but it must be recognised and promptly addressed when it arises. Eventually, it all comes down to tactics managers should use to recognise and tackle favouritism within the workplace. 

Favouritism is often implicit, not explicit. It is an attitude that unspoken expectations and stereotypes can influence. As such, it undermines an influential culture of equality and diversity at work. There are multiple causes for favouritism as well as for its prevention:

  • It may be helpful to routinely survey (anonymously) staff to assess whether favouritism exists in your organisation. This will establish the general perception of favouritism and allow for discussion.
  • The promotion of open communication and the encouragement of staff to speak to their line managers is paramount in preventing favouritism in the workplace. Open communication allows issues to be raised and dealt with before escalating into full-blown disputes.
  • Staff onboarding processes should be set up in a way such that favouritism can't occur. If procedures are built into place where this occurs, the management team will be held accountable and face disciplinary action.

Ideally, favouritism in the workplace can often be prevented by having clear policies and procedures for hiring new employees and promoting existing ones. By following these guidelines consistently, managers will not have any reason to favour one employee over another because they will all be evaluated equally according to set standards that are applied equally across all candidates regardless of their unique orientation.

When it comes to favouritism, employees are often quick to complain. But they may be less sure what to do next. If you've been the victim of favouritism at work, you'll know how it can feel - but how do you deal with it?

Here's how:

  • If someone reports favouritism they have witnessed or experienced in the workplace, it's essential to confirm that what has been reported is actually favouritism. If there's no evidence, then consider whether the person reporting it has misunderstood what happened or if there are other issues at play.
  • Communication is critical if there is a genuine case of favouritism at work and action needs to be taken against those involved. The first step is talking with all parties involved in order to understand what happened and what can be done about it from an HR perspective.

In a Nutshell

Favouritism in the workplace is considered an unfair practice, giving preferential treatment based on personal feelings and bias rather than merit. It can lead to resentment among those who were not treated fairly, regardless of their performance.

If you want to know more about favouritism at work and how it can hinder your business' productivity, book a demo with Ovation Incentives. We have specialist staff who are passionate about sales and service, and we can help your business make more of them.