The Dangers of Playing Favourites at Work

I recently conducted a workplace mediation between two employees, Arlene and Patty*.

They were both members of a relatively small team and their relationship had deteriorated to the point where they were no longer speaking to each other. This was obviously impacting the rest of the team, and the organisation as a whole. I was brought in to try to understand and resolve the underlying issues.

In her meeting with me, Patty described that the issues began with Arlene when she realised their manager favoured Arlene. She first started noticing the different treatment in meetings. No matter what they were discussing, their manager would always ask for input from Arlene, taking her feedback on board while seeming to ignore everyone else.

Patty said their manager was usually an absolute stickler on rules and procedures. However, these were overlooked when Arlene was late for meetings or handed in a report late or unfinished. The manager was displaying double standards. These behaviours from anyone else would not have been tolerated.

Patty recognised she couldn’t blame Arlene for the preferential treatment their manager was displaying towards her. But she said the issue was that Arlene had started displaying entitled behaviour and a nasty attitude. She seemed to think she was above the rules and policies. She wasn’t pulling her weight and was getting away with unacceptable things. The unfairness of the situation started causing interpersonal conflict with Arlene.

It was clear the issues between the two employees had been caused by the manager’s preferential treatment of one staff member over another. This was causing great resentment not only for Patty, who believed it was impacting her role and possible advancement in the organisation, but also for the rest of the team.

In my report, I made observations and recommendations. While it is human nature to connect with some more than others, we have a responsibility as a manager of a team to ensure we don’t display double standards and instead treat everyone equally.
I suggested the organisation have a constructive conversation with the manager, making her aware of her behaviour and the impacts of displaying favouritism.

In addition, my recommendations were:
-Be inclusive by allowing all members of the team the opportunity to speak up and have a voice.
-Be empathetic by recognising and appreciating the feelings of others.
-Make a conscious effort to divide up a team’s work in an equitable way.
-Work on developing personal connections with all members of the team.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the parties.