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How Bad is Favoritism? This Bad

Favoritism in the workplace is worse than you think. A new study shows that when it comes to promotions, bosses' gut instincts matter a whole lot more than any performance reviews.


  • Most bosses already know who they want to promote before any review process takes place. Some 56 percent of bosses already have a 'favorite' in mind for a promotion before the formal review process begins.
  • The favorites get promoted. Once the review process is over, the predetermined favorite gets the promotion a stunning 96 percent of the time.
  • Favoritism is widespread. Some 75 percent of the survey respondents say they have witnessed favoritism, and 23 percent admit they practice it. This is especially interesting, since 83 percent say this sort of unfairness leads to worse decisions in promoting people. In other words, some people are practicing favoritism and not even fooling themselves that it's a good idea.
  • Companies think they're addressing this. Some 94 percent of respondents say their company has procedures in place to prevent favoritism in promotions. And four out of five respondents say their companies have a formal process in place for choosing who gets promoted. These include having promotion decisions reviewed by HR; having clear policies about how promotions are made, why they're made, and when; and using multiple people of different backgrounds interview candidates.
  • In most cases, a maximum of four people are considered for any given promotion. Only one person is considered 29 percent of the time.
Fairness not particularly valued
The senior managers who participated in the study all agreed that the top qualities they want to see embodied in a leader are being a good communicator, ethics, and trustworthiness. Fairness fell pretty far down the list, even though some might consider fairness a part of being ethical.
  • Only 38 percent of men rated 'fairness' as one of the top ten qualities, compared with 55 percent of women.
The study was conducted by researchers from Penn Schoen Berland and Georgetown University. They conducted 303 online interviews of senior executives at companies with at least 1,000 employees.

Have you witnessed favoritism in your organization? What effect does it have on productivity or morale?


Image courtesy of flickr user numberstumper
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor, and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at
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