Document Type

Seminar Paper

Date of Original Version



This paper addresses a topic that is a prevalent phenomenon in the workforce. It does not get a great deal of formal attention, but it is an important issue that exists in all organizations. The topic is organizational favoritism. According to Morettini, “Favoritism is part of human nature. No two people interact similarly to any other two, so it's impossible for all organization relationships to be "equal". It's only natural to gravitate to people that you share common interests with, and with whom you have an easy rapport” (2006: 1). We can view favoritism from two perspectives: subordinate perceptions of supervisor favoritism or actual favoritism behaviors. It is evident that relationships between supervisors and subordinates are a controversial discussion among subordinates, supervisors, and organizations in correlation with organizational favoritism. Berman, West, and Richter (2002) define organization relationship as “nonexclusive organization relations that involve mutual trust, commitment, reciprocal liking and shared interest or values” (2002: 218). An organizational relationship can be purely instrumental based on an exchange of resources or can be affective based on interpersonal liking and attraction. According to the Merit Systems Protection Board, “favoritism occurs when human capital decisions are based on personal feelings and/or relationships and NOT on objective criteria, such as assessments of ability, knowledge, and skills” (2011: 1). For the purpose of this paper, favoritism takes place when human capital decisions are established on personal feelings and/or relationships, such as assessments of ability, knowledge, skills, and past performance.

The majority of literature available on organizational favoritism places emphasis on certain human resource functions where supervisory decision-making could be influenced. Hence, supervisors use subjective criteria in hiring decisions, promotional decisions, performance evaluations, and work and task assignment decisions rather than objective measures. “Subjectivity opens the door to favoritism, where supervisors act on personal preferences toward subordinates to favor some subordinates over others” (Prendergast & Topel, 1996: 958). According to Dr. Sayani Basu, “in the work place, favoritism can be said when someone-or perhaps a group of people-appears to be treated better than others and not necessarily for reasons related to superior work performance” (2009:1). In Duran and Morales approach to favoritism, “preferred individuals are those who belong to the group of friends of the organization. The unfairness that characterizes favoritism is found in the fact that decision-makers consciously favor their friends at the expense of someone else who is more deserving” (2009:3). According to Bassman and London, “showing favoritism maybe abusive in itself, especially if the “out group” subordinates are regularly excluded from opportunities for development, valued job assignments, pay increases, or other rewards” (1993:21).

The use of favoritism in supervisor decision-making has limited academic literature in relation to ethical decision-making theory, leader-member exchange theory, or expectancy theory. Furthermore, academic literature has used antecedents and consequences to investigate favoritism, but not favoritism in supervisory decision-making.

The purpose of this research is to examine organizational conditions that make the use of favoritism more likely (antecedents) and the outcomes that occur when high use of favoritism is used within groups and organizations (consequences). I found that the uses of favoritism in supervisorial decision-making are caused by pre-existing conditions that occur within the organization. The antecedents used in the favoritism model (Diagram 1) includes: transparency, clear and specific decision-making criteria, ethical climate or culture, supervisor accountability for results, and supervisor accountability for process. Performance, morale, and motivation are consequences that are critical to determining favoritism in supervisor decision-making and are also displayed in the favoritism model too (diagram 1). I found that favoritism is more likely to occur in organizations that have a lack of transparency in decision-making, deficiency of clear and specific decision-making criteria, a non-existent organizational culture or climate, insufficient accountability on supervisors, and a lack of engaged supervisors.

Organizations typically have standard operating procedures (SOP) in place to help guide in the everyday operations of the organization and are an integral part of a successful organization environment as it provides individuals with the information to perform a job properly, and facilitates consistency in the quality and integrity of the organization. Furthermore, an SOP is designed, in part, to minimize favoritism and promote quality through consistent implementation of a policy or procedure within the organization. It can be assumed that if at any point during supervisory decision-making the same policies or procedures used to manage one group of subordinates aren’t the same policies and procedures used to manage other groups a break-down in SOP has occurred. The break-down in SOP by a supervisor ultimately is because one subordinate or group of subordinates (in-group) is perceived to be favored based on a good relationship or common interests over the other subordinate or group of subordinates (out-group). This will result in subordinates perceiving favoritism based on variations to SOP by supervisors which then results in reduced morale and organization motivation, decreased performance, increase in social capital, perceived inequality and high turnover.