Favoritism in the Workplace: Understanding In-Group Bias

Favoritism in the workplace is a natural phenomenon, as many gravitate towards others due to personal connections, shared experiences and compatible personalities. However, leaders in the workplace are responsible for maintaining a positive, merit-based work environment and treating all employees fairly.

Unchecked favoritism imbalances the workforce and causes in-group tension, leading to a reduction in individual and team performance. To mitigate unfair treatment and its domino effects, we examine the phenomenon of favoritism and how to reduce in-group bias.

What Is Favoritism at Work? 

While camaraderie between colleagues is a positive dynamic for workplace creativity, teamwork and support, favoritism is preferential treatment unrelated to work performance or merit, often by a manager towards a direct employee.

One example of favoritism is praising one person's work and overlooking their flaws while inflating the flaws and ignoring the quality of another's work.

Favoritism is endemic in the workplace, as 92% of senior executives report witnessing employee favoritism, while one-quarter of senior business executives admit to exercising favoritism at work.

Four Disadvantages of Favoritism at Work

When managers perpetuate in-group bias, it negatively impacts team morale and undermines the work environment. Unfair management breeds resentment, harming motivation, respect for leadership and employee retention.


When the workforce perceives that one of their ranks is gaining unwarranted attention, the perception of the favored coworker becomes negative. This creates an uneasy and tense work environment that sows discord and mistrust among the workforce.

Loss of Respect for Leadership

Employees can tell when a manager's fondness for someone is rooted in personal bias or superficiality. This awareness eats away at the trust in the leader's judgment and honesty. People generally care little for the opinions and wishes of those they cannot trust or respect.

Lost Motivation

When achievement and recognition are arbitrary, what is the point of hard work and ambition? When people think that their efforts are wasted, motivation evaporates. No one wants to work for a manager or company that makes them feel undervalued and ignored.

Employee Churn

Diligent workers deserve opportunities to advance their careers through merit. Work turns into a hamster wheel when employees feel like their work is undervalued. Instead of trudging through a frivolous work environment, many employees may seek to find greener pastures where they are recognized for their work.

How to Address Favoritism at Work as An Employee

Here are steps to address favoritism as an employee. 

Determine if it's genuinely favoritism

When people advance faster than others, it might be misinterpreted as favoritism when it is simply earned progress. Carefully consider calling out favoritism.

Talk to your leadership

If preferential treatment is genuinely due to factors besides job performance, it needs to be addressed. Address the issue by going through the proper channels, whether it's to leadership or HR.

Avoid complaining to coworkers. 

The impulse to vent to coworkers about favoritism at work may bring short-term relief from frustration, but this creates awkward situations and more interpersonal problems. Complaining to peers makes team members look unprofessional, so it is preferable to approach leadership about any concerns.

Addressing Favoritism at Work as Leadership

While HR departments should be able to advise leadership on how to prevent favoritism in the workplace, it's important to understand how internal systems can help prevent favoritism.

Understand friendships with direct reports 

Teamwork and rapport are helpful when managing direct reports. Friendships, however, can interject risks of favoritism. Leadership must be aware of how their personal friendships influence the decisions they make. It's good practice to ask for outside feedback when making decisions regarding a direct report that you have a closer personal friendship with to guard against favoritism.

Establish merit-based performance reviews 

Advancement should be a decision based on merit. While there are powerful tools to predict performance pre-hire, ensure that advancements and opportunities go to workers that elevate the company's productivity and success overall.

Speak up when you see favoritism 

Everyone should have someone to talk to about employee favoritism. Go through HR when you see favoritism to prevent it from poisoning the workplace.

Combat Bias Before You Hire

While you can't predict how in-group bias will occur in the workplace, you can use tools that help you promote the best people.

PerceptionPredict offers science-backed predictive analytics to assist in evaluating pre-hire and current salespeople, to create a high-performing salesforce. 

Book a demo today to find out how you can reinvent your salesforce.

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