Strategic Approaches to Addressing Favoritism in the Workplace

Strategic Approaches to Addressing Favoritism in the Workplace was originally published on Ivy Exec.

Have you ever found yourself in an all-too-relatable situation where one of your colleagues seems to have earned the coveted title of the boss’s favorite?

You know the drill – special projects are handed out like exclusive invitations, with the chosen one getting the first nod. It’s a script we’ve all read before. Perhaps you’ve even played the lead role, enjoying the perks of praise and intriguing projects, only to find your colleagues’ envy reaching new heights.

Favoritism, a pervasive issue in many organizations, has been laid bare in a recent study among senior-level executives at companies boasting over 1,000 employees. Astonishingly, 56 percent already had a preferred candidate in mind for promotion before the formal review, and a staggering 96 percent of the time, that favored individual clinched the coveted position.

Despite the prevalence of this practice, leaders are not quick to own up to playing favorites, even when they perceive it as problematic in others. An overwhelming 75 percent of respondents witnessed favoritism in action, with 83 percent acknowledging its detriment in selecting the best candidate for a role. Oddly, only a mere 25 percent could recognize this behavior within themselves.

Whether you find yourself in the spotlight or on the sidelines of your boss’s favoritism game, the experience is far from uplifting. Coping with this dynamic leaves team members feeling as if they’ll never measure up to the favored one, breeding resentment, undermining collaboration, and sapping motivation from your colleagues.

Let’s explore a few of the most effective strategies.


➡ Ensure that the scenario reflects favoritism.

When passed over for a coveted promotion or a key project, it’s common to feel a surge of frustration. The immediate reaction might be to think, “I’m more qualified than her! The only reason she landed the project manager role over me is that she’s the boss’s favorite.”

Nonetheless, in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to overlook crucial aspects of the situation, such as a colleague’s additional training or extensive background. Before judging the situation as favoritism, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the facts before jumping to conclusions.


➡ Encourage an equitable distribution of recognition and opportunities among your colleagues.

Being the standout favorite can sometimes make you a focal point for your coworkers’ less favorable sentiments, putting you in a less-than-ideal position.

Rather than just basking in compliments or coveted projects bestowed by your superiors, strive to share the appreciation. When your boss commends you in a team meeting, seize the moment to acknowledge your colleagues’ dedication to a project.

If tasked with a new project, subtly convey that your workload is substantial, suggesting another team member would excel at leading the initiative. This approach fosters a collaborative and supportive work environment.


➡ If you’re not the favorite, be more vocal about your accomplishments.

Speak up about your achievements if you are not in the spotlight. Getting noticed by your boss may seem like an uphill battle when you’re not the go-to person, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Oftentimes, individuals become favorites because they make their interests known and showcase their dedication to specific tasks.

Make your mark by discussing your experiences and expressing your eagerness to contribute to particular projects during meetings with your boss. For example, you might mention,

“I recently earned a project management certificate from Harvard Business School, and I’m enthusiastic about taking on a leadership role.”


➡ Navigate the delicate terrain of addressing favoritism in the workplace with finesse.

When addressing your boss’ favoritism, a direct approach might not always be the best strategy. Instead, consider an indirect approach that subtly communicates your aspirations for growth and new opportunities.

During a meeting with your boss, subtly express your ambitions like this:

“I’ve noticed Ron has had the chance to spearhead various healthcare policy projects recently. I find such projects intriguing and am eager to take on similar responsibilities. Could you share insights on the steps I need to take to be considered for such opportunities? I’m genuinely excited about the prospect of enhancing my skills and contributing meaningfully to our projects.”


➡ Record instances of favoritism.

In situations where the aforementioned strategies prove ineffective, enduring your boss’s favoritism can have a detrimental impact on your well-being, work commitment, and interpersonal dynamics with peers. In such circumstances, it becomes crucial to meticulously document occurrences of favoritism.

This documentation serves as a foundation for initiating discussions with senior leadership or the HR department. Despite potential dissatisfaction from your boss, safeguarding your career progression is paramount, especially when facing repeated oversight due to favoritism.


The Problem of Favoritism at Work


In the intricate dance of office dynamics, favoritism can subtly influence professional relationships. When your supervisor consistently directs accolades and exclusive projects toward a specific individual, it warrants attention.

The crucial aspect lies in discerning whether this is genuine favoritism or recognition of specific skills. Distinguishing between the two is essential.

Should you find yourself navigating the currents of favoritism, it becomes imperative to amplify your efforts to capture your supervisor’s attention. While self-promotion might feel uncomfortable, articulating your achievements and expressing your aspirations for advancement becomes a necessary stride forward.

Conversely, if you happen to be the favored one, consider proposing a broader distribution of special projects. This ensures fair recognition and cultivates a more inclusive work environment.

By Ivy Exec
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