Managerial favouritism at work tends to be one of those things that is rarely recognised, acknowledged or talked about, unless you happen to be an employee who experiences it.
One of the reasons why the issue is so seldom proactively addressed at the leadership level is that such behaviour is often unconcious so managers either defend or deflect it.
Playing favorites is one of the most damaging problems in any group of people. Leaders who practice favoritism in the workplace have no chance to build a culture of trust. In business schools, they teach that the antidote for playing favorites is to treat everyone the same way. But this is a trap that can cause problems because it ignores the simple fact that all people are different.
Blatant favoritism of one star employee can lower the morale of all other employees, as other good employees will likely be aware that their peer is enjoying extra attention and appreciation while their own hard work goes unnoticed and unrewarded. Or in another way, for the same kind of mistakes a manager trash one employe and goes soft with another. As a result, these performers might feel neglected and unmotivated.
In their everyday responsibility, organizational leaders face dilemmas and decision-making processes in which favoritism could come up, even in disguise. Some leaders actually make decisions knowing that they are playing favorites. However, for some others sometimes it also happens inadvertently because of lack of self-awareness and personal biases. Regardless of how it happens, favoritism has terrible effects on the overall environment of an organization.
Unfortunately, in a toxic culture, where favoritism is an evident reality to most people, individuals end up replicating the wrong behaviors. Leaders have a great responsibility in building the type of culture that transmits the behaviors that they want the organization to embrace. However, when favoritism comes into play at the leadership level, it ends up trickling down to lower hierarchical ranks.
Breaking this cycle becomes a real challenge. But if not resolved, the organization ends up dedicating more energy to dealing with the inappropriate behaviors, than to becoming sustainable and productive.