Not surprisingly, concerns about favoritism in the workplace are most often voiced by those who find that they are not among the chosen few the boss favors.
However, even if you're on the receiving end of such favoritism, you might want to take a more objective look at the damage such behavior can cause, particularly to the morale of your fellow workers. Not to mention the resentment coworkers might have toward you because of the preferential treatment you are getting.
Although it's widely considered to be unacceptable and counterproductive, favoritism is widespread, at least according to a 2011 survey conducted by research firm Penn Schoen Berland and released by Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business.
The survey turned up some very interesting data. While 84 percent of the senior business executives surveyed said they see favoritism at play in employee promotions within their own firms, only 23 percent admit they've practiced favoritism themselves.
A somewhat less condemning view of favoritism comes from Jill Geisler, who heads the Poynter Institute's leadership and management faculty.
In her book, "Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know," Geisler tells managers that they can and should play favorites. She goes on to explain that "by playing favorites, I mean…identifying exceptional employees and giving them important assignments, learning opportunities, coveted work shifts, and participation in key projects and decisions."
All Can Become Favorites
However, Geisler goes on to explain that for this somewhat more benign form of favoritism to exist, bosses need to make clear to all their employees that the door is open for them to become favorites too if they turn in exceptional performances.
Bob Whipple, CEO of Leadergrow Inc., an organization dedicated to the development of leaders, says that playing favorites prevents the managers who do it from developing a culture of trust.
However, he rejects the notion that treating everyone the same is the natural antidote for favoritism, saying that such a policy ignores the fact that all people are different.
John Wooden's Advice
Whipple, the author of several management books, cites a bit of wisdom from the late John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach at UCLA.
When asked how he dealt with the issue of favoritism in coaching his players, Wooden said that "treating everyone the same is the surest way to show favoritism."
On the face of it, Wooden's observation seems more than a little puzzling.
In his interpretation of Wooden's statement, Whipple makes the point that a distinction must be drawn between perceptions of favoritism and actual favoritism. "The needs of different people require me to treat them differently," writes Whipple. "In order to not show blatant favoritism, I must take into consideration individual needs and do my best to treat everyone the right way. This means not treating everyone the same way."
What to Do?
Misleading perceptions of favoritism aside, what can you do as an employee if you are genuinely convinced that your manager is playing favorites and not just catering to the individual needs of his employees?
In trying to decide whether favoritism is really being practiced, you need to be brutally honest with yourself.
Are the boss's favorites in fact the most productive and innovative performers in the workplace, or are they simply the boss's pets for other, less relevant reasons? If the so-called favorites are significantly outperforming others — including yourself — then it might be more productive to try to step up your game and stop whining.
Is It Real or Imagined?
If, on the other hand, you decide the favoritism is real and not imagined, don't let the apparent discrimination deter you from doing the best work possible in your job.
Consider sitting down with the boss to discuss how you might take on additional responsibilities that could lead to a promotion or bigger paycheck. Ask your boss what you can do to get ahead, but under no circumstances should you accuse him of favoritism.
If continuing efforts to do the best job possible fail to win you the recognition or rewards you feel you deserve, you might consider sitting down with someone in your company's human resources department to discuss your concerns.
Finally, if your negative feelings about being passed over are beginning to reflect themselves in the quality of job you're doing or in your treatment of coworkers — particularly those you believe are being favored — seriously consider moving on to another job.
Don Amerman is a freelance author who has written extensively about personal finance, corporate strategy, management practices, and social media. He has also looked at digital innovations in the retail marketplace, including the wireless credit card machine.