« Family dinners matter | Main | Online job complaints -- can you get fired? »

The boss who play favorites

Boss Have you ever had a boss that blatantly has favorites, just like a school teacher with her pet students?

Most of us have, and it's not fun to be the one who doesn't have the "favorite" status. But do you think it's possible that some bosses really have no idea they have favorites or treat some workers differently than others?

I read something today that made think it was possible.

A boss wrote into the newspaper for advice. She said her staff gave her a terrible rating on favoritism. She said she feels she's consistent on applying policies and enforcing rules. However, she admits she's has a closer connection with some employers who share common interests. She wants to know what to do to make it better.

What would you tell her?

Being "in" with the boss can make a world of difference in your work and home life. It can be the key to getting some flexibility and pulling off work life balance.

The expert advice for this boss was interesting. Marie McIntyre told her:  "The first step is to objectively evaluate your interactions with employees, then make an effort to distribute your attention more equally. Managers should always be aware of the messages sent by their actions. While it's normal to enjoy the company of some people more than others, you must be careful not to make that preference obvious."

This whole issue of favoritism at work reminded me of a blog post by Penelope Trunk. It was about "fitting in." She writes: People do not lose jobs because they don't get the job done. People generally lose jobs because of poor cultural fit. If people think you fit on the team, they'll cut you slack even when you don't get the job done. In fact, the Harvard Business Review reports that people don't even care if you don't get the job done if they like you.

So, how do you get the boss to like you? And if she or he doesn't, how do you make her aware of her "appearance" of favoritism. 

My suggestion: Find out your boss's interests, dig deep to find out what you might have in common, and then, make conversation around those interests. You don't want to fake a sudden love of football but you might start watching a few games to make conversation. 

Even if the boss doesn't do it intentionally, being  "a favorite" usually means you're on the receiving end of more information and better assignments. For a boss, that can be dangerous because some staff might resent it. But if you're the guy left out, I think you have do something. That could mean making the boss aware of your perception.  This boss who wrote in for advice seems like she would be open to her employee's feedback.

Readers, have you ever worked for a boss that plays favorites? If so, did you do anything about it? If you are a boss, do you think its possible to change employee perception?


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Being a favorite, regardless of reason, isn't always a good thing. I've been the favorite before and it makes you feel like you can't make a mistake. And when it's REALLY obvious to other people, particularly in a meeting setting, it can be REALLY uncomfortable. And better assignments? That means more workload, so you feel like you can't get it all done during the work day. There are upsides and downsides to everything. Be careful what you wish for.

Cindy Goodman


Wow, I never looked at it from that perspective. You made a great point. But it still seems like the upside to being a favorite outweighs the downside.


I think the cultural fit is a major factor in favored status with a boss or manager. While your work might be fine, if you can't connect within the environment. There is no chance of improvement. It will not work. Usually the solution is to just move on, which is almost impossible today because of the economy

Cindy Goodman

It must be so hard these days when you don't feel you fit in with the environment but don't really want to move on because of the horrible job market. How do you think people are dealing with this dilemma?

Debbie C

Very interesting article. However, unfortunately, most bosses who play the favoritism game know exactly what they are doing. And they dont care.

The comments to this entry are closed.