When it appears a colleague is getting preferential treatment from the boss, it can have a negative impact on workplace morale. The rumor mill shifts into high gear as envious co-workers debate the purpose for the special treatment. While some favors may have a reasonable explanation, the impact of the perceived slight still has a far-reaching negative effect.
Any type of personal relationship has the potential to result in the granting of favors. If the employee is a friend, significant other or family member, there’s a natural inclination for the boss to favor that person -- intentionally or not -- in some aspects. Trouble occurs when other employees feel they’re not getting a fair shake, or that the special treatment is unwarranted or undeserved.
In some cases, the boss may simply grant favors as a way to say thank you for a job well done. This type of positive reinforcement can help bolster an employee’s attitude and ultimately make him more productive to the company. If a single employee is continually singled out for recognition when others are performing just as well, yet are ignored, it can strain employee-employer relationships if staffers feel their work is somehow undervalued.
A boss who hands out favors may be trying to retain those he considers to be his top performers. In some instances, when a company can’t offer a higher salary to its best employees, it attempts to keep them happy with “perks.” These may be seen as favors, such as extra time off, use of a company vehicle or the opportunity to travel on behalf of the organization.
Some favors might be the direct result of an existing intimate relationship or of a superior's attempt to form a closer relationship with a subordinate. A boss who hands out promotions, special assignments or raises to an employee he has this type of relationship with runs the risk of facing legal consequences, depending on the extent of the favoritism and the company's policy on inner-office romances, according to the Maurice A. Deane School of Law.
When it seems one employee gets special favors, it can lead to resentment, not only of the situation, but of the boss and the favored employee. Staffers who feel they’re being treated unfairly are more likely to talk badly about the company, underperform, and in some cases may feel justified in stealing or taking back from the employer. This results in a landslide of potential problems, including decreased morale, poor performance and an agitated workforce.
How to Cope
Complaining to your boss about what another employee receives is only a wise move only if you’re sure you’re being harmed in the process. Don't cry favorite unless you have evidence the person being rewarded is being given unfair preferential treatment. If you have legit concerns, take them to your human resources director.
- Knowledge at Wharton: Playing Favorites -- Romantic or Otherwise -- Is a Messy Game in the Workplace
- Gaebler.com: Small Business Compensation
- Marriott Alumni Magazine: Playing Favorites -- The Perks and Quirks of Office Friendship
- Maurice A. Deane School of Law: Romance in the Workplace -- When 'Love 'Becomes Litigation
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.