By Leigh-Ann Athanasius & Kathleen Kibi

Is your boss playing favourites?

Favouritism is a difficult thing to navigate, especially when you are not the favoured person and navigating this in the workplace is significantly more complicated. However, claiming that your boss is favouring a colleague over others is a bold accusation to make. Is there enough evidence to prove it?

It is important to distinguish what is favouritism vs what is earned. You may feel like your colleague is getting all the best assignments and that it is unfair, but have you considered that they may be the best fit for that particular job? The best way to navigate these situations is to have the right perspective.

Why this person?

The first thing we all have to admit to ourselves is that we all want to be seen and treated positively, especially in the workplace.

A good way to determine if there is favouritism in your office is to figure out why person X is the “favourite”. If they are doing their job well and taking the initiative to interact with the boss, then they probably deserve the attention and praise that they are receiving.

However, there are instances where it is clear that favouritism is being practiced by your boss –

  • This person gets praise for work that they weren’t involved in,
  • The person is given grace about not performing to standards within the workplace vs. their colleagues who are punished (missing deadlines, reporting to work late etc.)
  • The person is invited by your boss to offsite events that see them being looped into and assigned work that will accelerate their careers in the workplace.

Favouritism at its worst can be discriminatory. This is particularly true when the preferential treatment is motivated by protected characteristics (such as gender, race, tribe, religion etc). If this is happening at your workplace, then you should escalate the issue to your HR department so that a formal review is conducted on the situation.

What you can do when you’re not the ‘favourite…

  • Try talking to Person X. This can give you insight into how they do their job and present themselves that is appealing to your boss. Remember, it’s fairly natural to get along with some people more than others and your boss is human too and can fall victim to this. Interacting with this person could also make it clearer whether there is actually favouritism or if this person is really just a model employee. 
  • Create opportunities for yourself. Speak to your boss about getting the chance to take part in projects that you are interested in. You could let them know that you noticed Person X got an interesting opportunity, and you were wondering if there was anything similar that you could take part in to develop your strengths. Better yet, you could pitch new ideas. That would both show initiative and give you the chance to spearhead that idea. 
  • Find a mentor. Maybe you’re not getting what you need from your boss in terms of career guidance and development. That’s okay. You could then seek mentorship from other people that you look up to in your field. If you find a mentor from within the same organisation, you may want to run it by your boss and let them know your goals and why you think this person is best suited to help you.
  • Move on. If all else fails, you may need to move on from the organisation. This is especially true if the favouritism is discriminatory and there is nothing being done about it. That is probably not an environment you want to be in anyway and it would only harm you in the long run to stay. 

This is a hot button issue and while favouritism is definitely something that can and does happen in the workplace, it is important to observe, investigate and understand if there is actual favouritism happening. No one wants to feel like they are missing out on opportunities/better treatment, especially in the workplace. So before you fall into complaining about the ‘favourite’ in the workplace, try to talk it out and explore all options before coming to the conclusion.

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