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Why Managers Play Favourites

In many workplaces, it is not uncommon to hear whispers of favouritism. Some employees seem to receive more recognition, better projects, or more leniency from their managers.

This phenomenon, often termed as "playing favourites," can significantly impact team dynamics and overall workplace morale. But why do managers play favourites, and what can be done about it?

This article delves into the psychology behind favouritism in the workplace and offers insights into how organisations can foster a fair and equitable environment for all employees.

The Psychology Behind Favouritism

Favouritism can stem from various psychological and social factors. Managers are more likely to favour employees with whom they share similarities, such as common interests, backgrounds, or values.

This is rooted in the concept of homophily, which suggests that people tend to associate and form bonds with others who are similar to them. When managers and employees share similar traits or experiences, it creates a sense of familiarity and trust, often leading to preferential treatment.

Another factor contributing to favouritism is the concept of "liking bias." Personal likeability can significantly influence professional relationships.

Managers might unconsciously favour employees they find more likeable, regardless of their performance or qualifications. This bias can manifest in many ways, from giving more challenging assignments to offering more frequent praise.

The Impact of Favouritism on the Workplace

Favouritism can have profound effects on the workplace environment. It often leads to feelings of resentment and demotivation among employees who perceive themselves as being unfairly treated.

Many employees believe that favouritism is a significant problem in their workplace. This perception can lead to decreased job satisfaction, lower productivity, and higher turnover rates.

Moreover, favouritism undermines the principles of meritocracy. When employees see that rewards and opportunities are not based on performance or hard work, it can erode trust in management and the organisation as a whole.

This can create a toxic work culture where employees are less likely to collaborate or support each other, fearing that their efforts will not be recognised or rewarded fairly.

Insights on Managerial Favouritism

Favouritism is often more pronounced in smaller teams or organisations where personal relationships play a more significant role. In larger organisations, formalised processes and structures can help mitigate the effects of favouritism by ensuring more objective criteria for evaluations and promotions.

Interestingly, favouritism is not always detrimental. In some cases, perceived favouritism can enhance team cohesion and motivation if the favoured employees are genuinely high performers who inspire others.

However, this is a delicate balance to maintain and requires transparent communication and clear performance metrics to avoid negative perceptions.

Strategies to Combat Favouritism

Organisations can take several steps to address and mitigate favouritism in the workplace. Here are some strategies based on best practices and insights:

1. Implement clear policies and procedures: Establishing transparent policies for promotions, rewards, and recognition can help ensure that decisions are based on objective criteria rather than personal preferences. Regular audits and reviews of these policies can help maintain their effectiveness.

2. Promote diversity and inclusion: Encouraging a diverse and inclusive workplace can reduce the likelihood of favouritism based on similarities. Diversity training for managers can also help them recognise and address their unconscious biases.

3. Provide training and development for managers: Training programs focused on leadership skills, emotional intelligence, and unbiased decision-making can equip managers with the tools they need to manage their teams fairly and effectively.

4. Encourage open communication: Creating a culture of open communication where employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns can help identify and address instances of favouritism early on. Regular feedback sessions and anonymous surveys can provide valuable insights into the workplace climate.

5. Foster a performance-driven culture: Emphasising the importance of performance and results over personal relationships can help shift the focus to merit-based evaluations. Clear performance metrics and regular performance reviews can support this approach.

I'm a Manager. What Can I Do?

As a manager, recognising and addressing favouritism is crucial for maintaining a fair and productive workplace.

If you have read the above and realised that you might be playing favourites, it is important to take proactive steps to ensure all team members feel valued and fairly treated.

Here are practical strategies you can implement to mitigate favouritism and promote equity within your team:

1. Self-reflection and awareness: Reflect on your own behaviours and biases. Being aware of unconscious biases can help in recognising when favouritism is influencing your decisions.

2. Seek feedback: Constantly request feedback from team members and peers about your management practices. Constructive feedback can provide insights into any perceived favouritism and help you adjust your approach.

3. Standardise decision-making processes: Implement standardised processes for task assignments, performance reviews, and promotions. This can help ensure that decisions are made based on objective criteria.

4. Develop diverse relationships: Try to build relationships with all team members, not just those who are similar or likeable. Understanding the strengths and contributions of each team member can reduce the likelihood of favouritism.

5. Transparency and communication: Be transparent about decision-making processes and criteria. Clearly communicate the reasons behind assignments, promotions, and rewards to all team members.

6. Professional development: Engage in professional development opportunities that focus on leadership, emotional intelligence, and diversity. Continuous learning can help you develop the skills needed to manage teams fairly and effectively.

7. Accountability: Hold yourself accountable and be open to change. If instances of favouritism are identified, take responsibility and make the necessary adjustments to ensure fairness.

MiTraining offers fully online qualifications including the Diploma in Leadership and Management. This course is ideal for those who are pursuing a management career and can set up you for a successful transition into team leadership, supervisory and business management roles.

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