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Favoritism in the Workplace: Perception or Fact

Q:  Dear Workplace Wonda,

There is an employee in our office that is the obvious “favorite” of the supervisor.  This employee even brags about it in the office.  I don’t know if it’s true, but most of the employees in my office are feeling this way.  How do we let our supervisor know how we are feeling without coming off as petty or jealous?

Signed, Proverbial Step-Child

A:  Dear Proverbial Step-Child,

Favoritism for one employee over another by a supervisor is one of the most common, and often times, false perceptions occurring in the workplace.  Stating that someone is the “favorite” is a pretty subjective comment, unless you can substantiate it or the supervisor admits it. 

For example, Workplace Wonda is a HUGE Denver Broncos fan.  My baby brother is a Seattle Seahawks fan, my oldest brother is an Oakland Raiders fan, and my middle brother is a Los Angeles Rams fan.  All of the sudden, my mother who has never been a huge football fan, starts sporting Seattle Seahawks t-shirts and beanies!  Hmm, I’m no Nancy Drew, but I found it pretty easy to solve the mystery of who my mom’s favorite child is!  Her baby boy, of course!   Regardless of the smoking gun, my mother adamantly denied the obvious, stating, “I love you all the same!”  Really?  If that was the case, wouldn’t she at least wear a Broncos jersey, Seahawks beanie, Rams scarf, and a Raiders sweatshirt?    Just saying...

As humans, it is in our nature to gravitate towards individuals with similar personalities, interests, backgrounds, or be the baby in the family.  Some people just connect more than others.   Unfortunately, when it is the supervisor seemingly connecting with certain employees more than others, perception of favoritism can run rampant.  I say perception because if you look at the definition of favoritism, i.e., the practice of giving unfair preferential treatment to one person or group at the expense of another, claiming favoritism is a pretty strong accusation. 

It’s important to take a look at what is really happening.  Is your supervisor really favoring somebody unfairly?  Is the behavior affecting morale and productivity in your office or department?  Is the glory given to the “favorite” unjustified?    Are you feeling this way because of legitimate incidents of unfair treatment or the fact that this employee receives more attention from the boss?  It’s easy to feel left out when you are not getting the same one-on-one attention from your boss that another might be receiving.  It certainly doesn’t help that Mr. or Mrs. Braggedy brag pants is claiming boss’s pet status. 

So, what can you do?  The following are a few options:

1)      Tell your supervisor how you feel.  This can be difficult, and yes, your supervisor might think you are being petty or jealous; particularly, if he or she is completely clueless about the perception in the office.  


a.       Supervisor Tip:  Listen.  Perception can be just as deadly to morale as fact.  Don’t poo-poo your employee’s feelings.  They might not be the only one feeling this way. 


2)       Concentrate on you.  Instead of concentrating on the alleged favorite’s relationship with your supervisor, concentrate on yours.  Be pleasant, helpful, give suggestions for improvements, and ask for new assignments.  This will get you noticed and put you on his or her radar. 


a.       Supervisor Tip:  Do a checkup from the neck up.  This is the time where you can be a servant leader and ask each of your employees what they need from you to excel in their jobs.  A little one-on-one attention goes a long way to squash false perceptions. 

Feeling resentment is a waste of energy and won’t change anything.  Sometimes the best revenge is succeeding.  When the Broncos won the Super Bowl this year, do you think I threw shade at my Seattle Seahawk-loving mom and baby brother?  Darn straight I did!  Hey, I never professed to be above the middle child syndrome. 

Hey, mom, “Broncos rule, Seahawks drool!

Signed, Workplace Wonda


  1. Wanda, you rock! I want to be like you when I grow up. Very knowledgeable.


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