Coaching Perspectives on Favouritism and Inequality: Excuses or Reality?

Today I am going to be a controversial business coach! Having completed a number of workplace culture audits this year, we’ve noticed a recurring theme of employee complaints about favouritism and inequality. On further investigation, it appears that complaints of favouritism and unequal treatment are often from the under-achievers and under-performers in the business. You heard me!

Before I continue being controversial, let me quickly clarify that I certainly do not endorse favouritism in the true definition of the word, especially when it is rooted in racial, gender or any other discrimination, harassment or retaliation. Nor is favouritism acceptable when employees get preferential treatment due to reasons outside of job performance, such as appearance, relationships or blackmail.

What I am saying is that the terms “favouritism” and “inequality” are being misused in many contexts. Either the complainants don’t understand the true definition of the terms, or they are looking for a quick and cheap excuse as to why they are being overlooked.

Equality in the workplace can only be about opportunity. Everyone needs to have the same access to resources, training, promotion, incentives, etc and access to the same opportunities to grow, learn, earn and advance their careers. But that is where it stops. If all employees, regardless of their performance, get the same increases every year, are paid the same and get the same treatment, the business owners are destined to create a team of mediocre workers who do the bare minimum.

With so much emphasis and focus on employees’ rights and the responsibilities of employers, we seem to have lost focus on employers’ rights and the responsibilities of employees. It’s about give and take and it is needs to be quid pro quo… the more you put in, the more you get out.

So when an employee goes the extra mile, does tasks beyond his or her job description, demonstrates a visible interest in the strategy of the business, volunteers new ideas and suggestions or inspires the rest of the team to perform, is it favouritism or inequality for that individual to get promoted, get a higher bonus, or be granted a few extra days’ leave for their efforts? No!

I truly believe that “favouritism” is an excuse that is thrown about too often by disgruntled workers. I believe that “equality” is often an expected output from people whose input is by no means equal to their results-driven peers. And while I am being controversial, long service is not a justification for increases or promotion!

With this realisation, how do we coach businesses to eliminate accusations of favouritism and inequality in the workplace?

Company values

People do business with people and it is natural for certain people to connect with some and not others. That is why the company culture and values are so important. When employees share a value system, a work ethic and similar attitudes towards work, issues of favouritism and equality become irrelevant. Businesses need to hire people with the right attitudes, work ethic and values. Personality profiling and assessments are valuable tools to use in the hiring process.

Key Performance Indicators

When job descriptions, role, responsibilities, expectations, targets and objectives are very clearly communicated and agreed to, it removes ambiguity about rating performance. Furthermore, these KPIs and documented job descriptions need to be seen as the minimum requirements for the job. Employees should be encouraged to push the envelope and go above and beyond the scope of work, as that is where future leaders are identified.

If incentives, increases, bonuses, perks and promotions can be justified on the basis of performance and contribution to the success of the company, accusations of favouritism and inequality can’t be entertained.

I have no doubt that instances of pure favouritism and inequality exist in the workplace, and that is bad management. But my advice to the employees I coach in business is to BE the favourite. Go the extra mile, put in the effort, volunteer your ideas, think and care deeply about the success of the business, and you will be rewarded… possibly unequally… but not unfairly, because that’s the type of person every business owner wants to work with.

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