My Boss Plays Favorites

Last Updated Apr 7, 2010 8:00 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady, How do you get the head of an organization to realize that he shows favoritism to a member of his team at the expense of the other members? Here are some things that are going on:
  • he wants to promote him but the favorite is not qualified
  • he allows the favorite to get a more expensive vehicle, then claims he did not know that it was so much more expensive. All the other members have the same car
  • The favorite member was advised by the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to see a psychologist. When the hr team organized it the head said don't bother - yet nothing was done
  • The head suggested the favorite attend a training program. The favorite decided he did not want to go.... so he didn't. Nothing happened.
  • The favorite was supposed to go on long vacation, the head allowed him to take less, then during the vacation he came into work any day he felt.
Everyone is seeing this and it is affecting relationships on the team and productivity. What do we do? I'm wondering why you know this employee had any contact with the Employee Assistance Program. EAP contacts should be confidential. Generally, HR doesn't even know about it in the US, other countries may vary of course. But no matter what country you are in, a co-worker shouldn't know who is and who is not involved in an EAP provided counseling.

You also shouldn't know about potential promotions (other than your own), training programs you are not involved in and numerous other things that are causing you stress.

Since you do know all these things, this means that your friend in HR (which I know you have) has a big mouth. So, what do you need to do? Stop talking to your friends about this "favorite" and get back to work before all of you get fired. And when you do get fired you'll complain that it's because the boss has favorites and not that you were discussing confidential information. But, you'll be wrong.

This does not mean that favoritism is not a problem. Some bosses, particularly those who are not adept at managing, have favorites. Like you said, it's a big problem. It does damage morale. It's disheartening to see others getting privileges that aren't available to you.

But, continually dwelling upon it doesn't help. It's okay to say to the boss, "I see Jane has X as her company car. When the lease expires on mine, I'd like to move to an X also." It is not okay to say, "I see Jane missed her psychologist appointment today. Aren't you going to do anything about it?"

There's nothing you can do to make a boss see their favoritism. You're too close to the problem and have too much to gain by having that person knocked down a little. Therefore, whatever you say will be discounted. It doesn't mean it isn't true, it just means your boss won't recognize it. Think of what happens if you go up to a pair of beaming new parents and say, "Oh, what a funny looking baby! He looks kind of like a troll, don't you think?" I'll tell you what; they won't give their baby a new nickname of "Troll" and you won't be on their Christmas card list any longer. This is not because it's not true--we've all seen ugly babies--but the parents will not believe you. Their baby is not funny looking. You must be jealous or insane or something because their baby is the cutest thing ever. So, here is what you do do:
  • Stop talking about the favorite
  • Figure out what qualities the favorite has that you are missing
  • Figure out what developmental things you need to do in order to move forward in your career
  • Meet with your boss to map out a career plan for you
  • Work hard to meet and exceed your goals
I promise if you stop dwelling on the problem it will get better. What you are in now is a vicious cycle. Favorite does something wrong, you (and co-workers) complain, boss defends, favorite feels justified in doing something wrong, you complain, and so on and so forth. If you ignore the bad behavior, the boss doesn't need to defend and the favorite feels less justified, so there is less reason to complain, less reason to justify, and so on and so forth. In order to stop a vicious cycle, one person (or group) has to change his behavior. That lucky person is you.

No one denies that his happens (and happens frequently). You just need to take yourself out of it.

For more on this topic: Photo by {Gaby}, Flickr cc 2.0

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