How to Deal With Employee Complaints on Preferential Treatment

Try to find ways to even the playing field through goal setting and face-time with the boss.
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When you're the boss, you get the pleasure of dealing with all the complaints and feedback from the people who work under you -- including complaints about preferential treatment for certain employees. This is a tricky issue; some people are going to gel better with you than others, no matter what. But when you or your managers choose to promote or reward people simply because they're "buddies," it's going to be a problem. One way to deal with it is to set up a system of reward and promotion that is transparent and easy for anyone to follow.

    Step 1

    Observe the situation for a short time. Write down any details you see that may support the employees' claims of preferential treatment, and ask them to write down any instances they can think of. If you're the one being accused, take note of your interactions with your employees, noting how often you interact with them, how you interact, and whether you or the employee is the one initiating the contact. If you find that you or one of your managers are indeed initiating more personal interactions with certain people, it may be time to ask the managers to back off, or for you to do the same.

    Step 2

    Add a policy to your manual that deals specifically with favoritism. Detail the types of interactions that are acceptable in the workplace and ones that are not. If you already have a policy in place, check it over to ensure it's clear and easy to follow. In either case, send an email to the staff to alert them to the workplace policy, or bring it up during your next employee meeting.

    Step 3

    Create a system of goal-setting for every employee. Have employees use the "SMART" goal setting system to come up with three-month, six-month and yearly goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. Then let employees know that to get promoted, get raises or get other rewards in the company, they will have to meet the goals they set up. Check back every three, six and 12 months to see whether employees are meeting their goals. If an employee who was considered a "favored" employee doesn't meet their goals, make sure they do not receive rewards. Likewise, if a "non-favored" employee does meet their goals, make sure they are rewarded.

    Step 4

    Take time to listen to the concerns of every employee. Set up a weekly "open door" session in which any employee can come to you with concerns, or schedule a regular meeting time with each employee to discuss anything they'd like to discuss. Often, employees perceive that others are receiving preferential treatment or favoritism because they have a better rapport with the bosses and are seen chatting with them -- so this regular meeting time underlines the fact that you want all employees' voices heard.

    Step 5

    Continue the dialogue with the people who have come to you to complain. Check in with them following your implementation of the changes to see whether they believe the changes are having an effect on the workplace.


    • Setting goals and then rewarding employees based on meeting those goals can really help keep things fair -- but be careful not to broadcast information about employee successes or failures to other employees, as that is a violation of their privacy. Don't worry -- people will hear through employee word-of-mouth.

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