Playing Favorites – And Why Sometimes It’s Alright

Playing Favorites – And Why Sometimes It’s Alright

Do you play favorites with your employees?

Playing favorites might not be as bad a thing as you think. Often, we get told that we need to treat all employees the same. And on the surface, that seems like the right and sensible thing to do. But that is not always the case.

Let’s take two different scenarios

Scenario One:

You have two employees. Employee A is always picking up extra hours, stays late, takes on additional responsibilities without complaining. This is your superstar. Not a brown nose, just a hard worker willing to do whatever is required and with a positive attitude.

Employee B is always complaining. This employee has an attitude and complains anytime they are asked to do anything that is outside of their job scope. This employee doesn’t do anything wrong, but they don’t do anything extra. Employee B does everything that is expected and no more.

Scenario Two:

Employee A is a friend of yours. Everybody likes them. This person does just as much work as everybody else. Maybe on occasion, they do a little extra because your buddies and they like you personally.

Employee B is a person who has a personality that doesn’t mix with yours. You’re not unfriendly with this person but you don’t go out of your way to talk to them. This person doesn’t do anything wrong, they are good at their job, and they are occasionally willing to pick up additional job duties.

Now let’s suppose that in each of the two scenarios both employees want a certain day off and the only one can have it. How do you choose?

I would argue that in scenario one it is o.k. to play favorites and give the day off to the employee who has done more work, has a better attitude, and takes on additional responsibilities.

In scenario two it isn’t so clear-cut. In this case playing favorites by rewarding the person you like more with the day off would be unethical. Instead, you need to weigh the merits of each employee and determine who will get it either based on equivalent contributions or use a non-biased method for determining who will get it when all else is equal.

Not Black and White

Playing favorites with employees on the surface isn’t always as black and white as it would initially seem. There are times where employees have earned preferential treatment through their own hard work and initiative. And there are times when employee’s efforts are evenly weighted and the only thing separating them are personal factors.

Where there is no clear separation in effort and attitude favoritism is not just unfair, it is unethical.

In situations where there is a clear difference in effort and attitude playing favorites can set up an incentive structure whereby employees are rewarded for going above and beyond. You just need to make sure that you are being fair about how you are judging people’s efforts.

A Word of Caution

Caution must be given to how we approach our personal feelings about employees. We need to ensure that our personal friendships don’t color our opinions and lead us to favoritism because of these relationships.

It is best to keep your friendships out of the workplace and hold all employees to the same standards. But if you maintain consistent standards and are judging all employees through the same lens than favoritism can be an ethical motivator.

Use Your Best Judgement

The bottom line is to use your best judgment. Don’t avoid playing favorites to motivate a hardworking employee who is always giving extra just because you are afraid of playing favorites. Be consistent in your expectations and how you reward your employees.

Use caution when giving additional benefits and favors. Make sure that you are not doing it out of personal feelings and friendships. Reward good workers even if you don’t personally connect with them.

Playing favorites, when done ethically and fairly, can create incentives that encourage employees to go above and beyond.

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