Favoritism strains workplace morale, harms agency performance

Tuesday - 12/24/2013, 1:09pm EST

Although federal employees reported a decrease in workplace discrimination over the past 15 years, many say favoritism is still a prominent issue.

Nearly half of federal employees said favoritism is a problem in their organization, according to a report from the Merit Systems Protection Board.

About 25 percent of feds said they believe their own supervisor practices favoritism. More than half of those surveyed suspect other managers within their organization practice favoritism.

The Merit System Principles (MSPs) provide guidance to federal managers on how to create a fair workplace free of Prohibited Personnel Practices (PPPs).

Ability, knowledge and skills should be considered "when making decisions that impact prospective and current federal employees," the report said, rather than basing such decisions on personal favoritism.

MSPs do not specifically define favoritism, but they do give examples — such as asking a human resources staff members to hire a friend into a position for which the person is unqualified, or granting a career ladder promotion to a favorite employee but not to a similar one who performed at the same level.

Unlike discrimination, which is easily definable and has legal implications, favoritism "requires more interpretation of the circumstances, and consequently, greater potential for differing opinions," the report said.

Favoritism can appear subtly, and some supervisors may not even recognize what they are doing.

About 25 percent of federal employees said supervisors had showed favoritism through their interactions with employees, whether by spending more time with them or demonstrating friendlier behavior.

Favoritism can have dire consequences for employees.

"The practice of favoritism can also sabotage interpersonal dynamics within the organization," the report said. "When employees are confident that they will be evaluated and rewarded based on their merits, they are more likely to trust their supervisors and their peers."

About 80 percent of employees reported reduced respect for their supervisors as a result of favoritism, as well reduced work satisfaction.

More than 70 percent said it strained relations between colleagues, even resulting in resentment toward the recipient of favoritism. A similar percentage said favoritism in the workplace harmed an agency's overall performance.

To reduce instances of workplace favoritism, MSPB recommends providing in-depth training to supervisors, emphasizing guidance put forth by MSPs.

The board also recommends ensuring transparency on what criteria will be measured for workplace decisions and how the supervisors will measure them.

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