At Work

Is your boss playing favourites?

Do you have a colleague who seems to be the boss’s pet? The one whom the boss praises the most or is most inclined to promote? Or the one the boss socialises with the most and confides in confidential matters with?

Perhaps, also the one who’s mistakes are never as serious as anyone else’s and continues to enjoy benefits that others are not entitled to?

During our childhood or schooling days, it is clear that life is unfair with the play of favourites – from our relatives to our school teachers.

Where there was authority, there were favourites and there were least favourites. We hoped this would end as we stepped into a world where professionalism and objectivity was professed to exist – the workplace.

Disappointingly enough, this level playing field amongst employees could only exist in utopia.

It doesn’t help that even research suggests that whilst favouritism may not be extensive or blatant, it is part of a natural aspect of human nature that would exist between people who share common interests and with whom you have an easy rapport.

Favouritism can be viewed from two perspectives – subordinate perceptions of supervisor’s favouritism, or actual favouritism that consciously or subconsciously results in differential treatment unrelated to work performance.

Whilst it can be a threat to deal with for the non-favourites, the biggest challenge arises when favouritism rears its ugly head during appriasals.

A Georgetown University survey measured favouritism and found that 92 per cent of executives admitted that favouritism is alive and functioning in larger organisations. Over 50 per cent of responding executives admitted to having at least one favourite in mind for inter-company promotions, while 96 per cent of these executives reported that they gave the promotion to their pre-identified favourite.

Interestingly, 83 per cent of these executives stated that favouritism generally led to unsatisfactory promotion decisions, even if they made these choices. However, only 23 per cent of these executives would admit that they personally practiced favouritism.

So the big question is, does favouritism exist?

The answer is yes. In fact, all of us practice it consciously and unconsciously.

The next question is, should it exist?

The answer is NO.

Favouritism leads to others feeling demoralised, undervalued and treated unfairly. It disconnects leadership from employees, employees from employees, and employees from organisational goals.

If you’re in a situation where favouritism exists, here are some slight changes that could propel you out of the situation:

Want a more favourable workplace? Register and browse for job opportunities here

1) Change your status

If you really feel that you are the unrecognised employee, objectively assess your performance or ask for feedback. Ensure that you are not necessarily playing the victim in order to excuse yourself from your performance.

The simplest and surest way of receiving undeniable recognition and eventually a promotion is if you have an undebatably high performance record.

Request for clarity around what high performance behaviours and measures are required at the start of the year, record all your year-to-year achievements and discuss this during your appraisals.

2) Change your focus

I’ve asked the question, “What do you want?” to many employees who have either subjectively or objectively experienced favouritism. Their answer has typically been, “I want my boss to be fair.”

The reality is that hoping that your boss will change will not bring you the control or success that you are looking for.

Ask yourself instead, “What do I really want that is within my control?” Chances are that you would end up saying something along the lines of, “I want to do a great job that eventually will pave the way for a promotion.” If that’s the case then ask yourself, “What do I need to do more of or less of to get what I want given that this situation may not change?”

It is important, therefore, to change the focus from the event where you have no control over, to possibilities that you can have higher control over, to get you the results you deserve.

3) Change your relational style

Ask yourself why favoured staff are favoured by their bosses and you’ll find out that it’s because they tend to be boss-centric – they clock in more boss-hours, understand the bosses’ needs, share similar interests and have a great rapport.

Remember that IQ will get you the job, but as you navigate within the organisation, emotional intelligence will take you higher.

Your boss, unfortunately (or fortunately), is your number one key stakeholder and it would be your job to figure out the best way of dealing with your boss and more importantly, having a great working relationship!

Take time and effort to assess your boss’ needs and motivation, show gratitude to your boss, treat your boss or buy small tokens of appreciation. Do not confuse this with “kipas” – if you motivate and recognise your boss or anyone at all for that matter, chances are you will benefit from reciprocity eventually.

4) Change your request

Instead of requesting for fairness or confronting your boss regarding your suspicions about their behaviours, it is important to think through a more judicious approach.

Regardless of how intense your emotions are, how long the situation has been going on for, or how long you have known your boss for, do not confront the conversation directly as it could eventually create defensiveness in your boss and backfire.

The best request you can put forward instead is for feedback, opportunities and help.

5) Change your situation

If all hope is lost and nothing feels like it can be changed, remember that you still always have a choice.

Happiness and productivity is critical in the workplace and always remember that there are many other opportunities with many other companies or bosses to work for.

However, do also remember that whilst you may change the situation, favoritism is still something prevalent within workplace relationships.

Remember that all is not lost. Whilst “kipas-ing” is not advisable, it is important to build great relationships with everyone and boost their motivation to work with you closely and happily.

So go the extra mile with your bosses, colleagues and conquer favouritism today!

Hetal Doshi – Suhana Daswani is a professionally qualified organisational psychologist, certified professional coach, and the founder of O Psych Sdn Bhd, with an expertise in work performance, team dynamics and emotional intelligence. To get in touch with her, drop an email to


Related articles:

More than words: What does your body language say?

3 types of difficult bosses and how to deal with them

Like this article? Follow us on Facebook to keep up-to-date with our latest insightful articles and career advice.