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How to Avoid Playing Favorites at Work

By Mark J. Cappone 

Key Takeaways

  • Playing favorites is counterproductive and jeopardizes team effectiveness.
  • Awards and punishments must be administered equally across organizations to avoid favoritism.

Have you ever been on a team and noticed that some people seemed to receive preferential treatment, or maybe weren’t held to the same standards when they failed to perform? How did that make you feel? As leaders, we need to remember it is our responsibility to carry out organizational justice or, simply put, to make sure there is fairness in the workplace.

I once served on a team where a senior leader failed to act in accordance with the organization’s values and policies, and also violated the law. While compelled to answer to civil authorities, this leader wasn’t held to a similar standard of accountability in the workplace and actually continued to receive promotions and favorable treatment for job assignments. As you might suspect, others in the organization became aware of not only this leader’s infractions, but also the favoritism he was receiving from the C-suite. This resulted in a general feeling of inequity among his peers and mistrust from subordinates that contributed to decreased morale and lower commitment to the organization.

Administering rewards fairly, or administering procedural justice, is a leader’s responsibility that directly impacts employee perceptions about the distribution of rewards and organizational justice.

Playing favorites for any reason, be it personal or professional, sends a distinct message that the rules don’t apply to everyone and runs counterproductive to fairness in the workplace.

To read more about the science behind favoritism in the workplace, check out the following Fisher Leadership Initiative Lead Read Today articles:

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