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Playing Favourites

One of the many complaints/comments I have heard throughout my HR career is that of managers playing favourites. Usually this comment arises because of some perceived injustice that has taken place – i.e. someone gets a preferred shift, day off, different hours, special arrangement (i.e. work at home) that another person or persons did not get. The offended employee will then come to HR with this complaint that the manager is “playing favourites.” i.e., “They let Sally Sue work at home because she is one of their favourites!” The employee who has been done this perceived injustice basis this on subjective feelings and cry’s foul about the rampant favouritism in the department.

In these cases, I always turn the employee back to their manager to have this discussion with them. I coach the employee on making sure they ask the right questions of their manager. Don’t accuse them of playing favourites, but let them know what you are looking for (preferred shift, change in hours, etc.) and ask what you can do to earn that privilege. The key word here is privilege as many employees feel they are automatically entitled (I hate that word) to something because someone else received it. The smart employees have this conversation with their managers and you would be amazed at how well these conversations actually go.

Teachers Pet FavouriteThe not so smart employees accuse their manager of playing favourites and make all kinds of bold statements about how inequitable, unfair and unjust they are being. The best response I ever heard to this type of accusation (and to this day I will never forget) came from a manager who admitted to playing favourites when the employee ‘accused’ them of doing so. The manager’s response was succinct but spot on:

“Yes, you are right….I do play favourites. My favourites are those employees who perform for me. They meet their performance objectives and their KPI’s. They arrive early and stay late when needed. I can count on them to go the extra mile and/or pinch in during a crunch. They are professional with our customers and understand the value of teamwork. So yes, I do play favourites.”

I thought that that was quite possibly the best answer I have ever heard to the old playing favourites accusation. Is it the right response? My opinion is that if the manager is able to effectively identify and manage performance, than yes – that is the right answer. If the employee wants to know how to be a “favourite” than it is incumbent on the manager to identify any performance gaps that exist and give them an opportunity to improve.

At the end of the day, it is all about performance. Managers need to take care of those that take care of them, so to speak. As an HR pro, I have managed HR departments ranging in size from 2-18 and I subscribe to the same theory. My favourites are the performers – those employees that focus on delivering for the department and the organization. The employees that work well with customers and internal clients and do what it takes to get the job done – those are my favourites- and I see nothing wrong with that approach. Managers need to make sure they are providing clear performance expectations for all staff so that the playing field is level for all to perform; however, those that are the top performers need to be taken care of. Most companies can’t always heap out tons of cash to these employees, so the other way to retain your top performers is through these other perks – flex hours, work at home, etc. We all talk about the ‘war for talent’ (another term I hate) and taking care of top performers – well, here is one way to win that war and reward top performers – play favourites.

What about you? Do you agree with this philosophy? What works for you? As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Image courtesy of Robert Cochrane/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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