Is your boss playing favorites?

Does your boss have a favorite at work… that isn’t you? You know what I’m talking about. Your boss makes “googly” eyes at the favorite. The two are routinely spotted whispering together, plotting. And when the time comes to choose someone for one of the better tasks, you know who your boss is going to pick and it won’t be you.

Here’s the most frightening element about favorites at work, they wield more power today than ever before. Why you might ask? Simple. Leaders (and organizations for that matter) are avoiding any and all risk at every turn. They don’t want to take a chance on anything and anyone who is “unknown.” Our friends in the job market will attest to that. Consider the following recent survey that was conducted by researchers at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. In polling senior executives at large U.S. corporations they found:

• 92% have seen favoritism at play in employee promotions.

• 84% have seen it at their own companies.

• 23% said they practiced favoritism themselves.

• 29% said their most recent promotion considered only a single candidate.

• 56% said when more than one candidate was considered, they already knew who they wanted to promote before deliberations.

• 96% report promoting the pre-selected individual.

Are you getting this? If there’s an open job, over half the time the boss has picked a favorite, and if they have, it’s a virtual lock that the favorite is gonna get it. So what can we do? Simple. Become the favorite.

Steps to Becoming the Favorite:

  1. Let your boss know what you are up to – Part of becoming the favorite is keeping yourself “front and center” in your boss’ mind AND not a source of worry or frustration. How do you do that? A simple way is to provide your boss a quick status update at the end of every week on things are progressing. If they know what you are up to, they are more likely to trust you.
  2. Make your boss’ life easier – Anticipate what your boss needs and try to meet those needs without being asked. Be proactive in putting out your boss’ fires and they will love you for it.
  3. Make your boss look good – Get kudos and recognition and then pull your boss into the spotlight. Making your boss look like he or she is doing a great job is a fantastic way to get in his or her good graces.

So, what should you not do? Pretty simple, the opposite of everything I mentioned above. In addition, keeping quiet and silent, hoping to be discovered is a sure-fire way to get lost at work. I did a whole month on that particular dysfunction so check it out ( “I’m not getting noticed at work” ).

Next up: Getting your boss to like you – What are tried and true do’s and don’ts? You might be surprised. Golf may not be such a good strategy after all… particularly if your golf game is anything like mine. Then again, I’m great at making others look really really good.

And in case you’d rather listen than read, here’s my recent radio segment on “Playing Favorites”.  Course, I give that to you at the end of the post.  Tricky or disorganized… you be the judge.

Listen: “When the Boss Plays Favorites at Work”

Playing Favorites

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24 replies
  1. Maureen says:

    Brandon, I really enjoy your posts! Very helpful advice through a witty and concise delivery. So glad to have this way to keep in touch post MEMBA. I hope all is well.

  2. Brandon Smith says:

    Thanks for following but more importantly, thanks for your kind words. Now I’ve just got to try to live up to them! Let me know if there is ever anything I can do to help you… that’s what I’m here for!

  3. Princess Angry says:

    It’s painful to see that there is a fave. Perhaps through this agony God is telling you to start your own business and leave the comfort zone in the office. Or….hey, if you are a single woman why don’t you find a well-financed boyfriend, get married and give up your job?

  4. M says:

    Don’t be so sure that it has no negative effects outside of the manager himself.

    If this particular subordinate is a favorite, he has a new found power over his peers. I know this from experience. Me and this other guy work under the boss. I diligently do my job but this guy constantly shows me up.

    He has an unfair advantage of starting early so he can get all his ducks in a row and brandish me with updates like I’m too irresponsible to figure out where we are when I come in. He does all that brown nosing stuff and it actually works. Next thing I know, the underlings are coming to him and not me. Then he begins giving me orders outside the bounds of my job, resulting in daily and weekly tasks being pushed off.

    If there is someone on the phone, holding paperwork, or has a question/need; his first instinct is to dump it on me. And that begins to spread like a disease. Soon, my boss and everybody else starts doing this. And nobody believes me when I say I’m overstuffed.

    And every time I have a genuine complaint, the other guy turns around and questions the difficulty of my day. “I do 19 things at once, you do only one” is an actual quote I got from him.

    I have a newborn at home but his kid lives far away, so he can devote his off time to making calls and scheduling things. It isn’t fair.

  5. Brandon Smith says:

    I hear ya. The part of your comment that stands out the most for me is that regardless of your efforts, you aren’t being heard. That’s concerning. I would encourage you to start looking for another role: either in the same organization or a different one. If that isn’t an option, I would encourage you to go back to your manager and share some of your experiences with this coworker giving your directives. Good luck and let me know if I can help in any way.

  6. Nancy says:

    What if…..
    The boss already has you pegged as a snitch, a whiner, a spy etc. Based SOLEY on reports from yis favorites. 2. Already has demoted your position /duties….as a “punishment”…..& directs others to behave negatively towards you and 3. Has actually Told you to never talk to him or email him any concerns…and has shut his opem door policy to you……all, again, based soley on rumors of others.? (To cover their own inadequecies….) 4. Boss has removed himself from my chain of command. 5. Am warned not to complain about ANYTHING…or disiplinary measures will continue. *see #2. Keep in mind I have not done ANYTHING or said to warrant this treatment.esentially, I have been blackballed. I am never late, never ever called out or missed a day. I have no write ups….etc. I follow the rules…and i do my job…and yet boss only listens to and reacts based on what he is told by others (who do so to deflect attention away from themselves …

  7. Nancy says:

    Ps. I’ve been told that the boss refers to me as “radioactive” to my coeorkers behind my back….and am “the joke” in my abscence. I am thijking this is all very toxic. Boss also plays fst and mlooee with payroll issues but knowd nothing will come of any complaints from anyone. Whistle blowers know this. Your take ?
    Thank you…

  8. not a gamer says:

    These kind of supervisors in my opinion, have no business in these roles. I have one at my workplace and this person spews venom into the department all day,everyday. Her favorite is the same. Personally, I am not offended that I am not the favorite because I have seen this “sup” turn on others, if you do not fall in line, with her agenda. This is nothing more than a game to her. Effectively managing people and creating a cohesive work environment is not on her agenda.

    Doing your work, being professional and not abusing your leave, coming to work on time daily is unrecognizable to these people.

  9. Chris B Scott says:

    Are we really discussing the benefits and how to’s of ass kissing? I think that too many people spend too much time trying to “get over” instead of doing the job at hand that they contracted to do.
    This problem is so prevalent in the workplace that 10% of the work force have to clean up and carry the other 90% on their back while doing so. Am I bitter about this?
    If every worker did 100% of the job as it is meant to be done 100% of the time we would all have the 40 hour week would not be necessary. Essecially we would still be living in the garden.

  10. bossdoesnotplayfair says:

    Well, my boss has a “favorite” in my workplace. This person hardly completes a full week without being out. She’s always calling in sick, going to doctor’s appointments at the last minute, and is very rude to people and on the phone. She does not possess any customer service skills whatsoever. She’s never confronted about it, she makes a lot of mistakes, but, when you bring these things up to the bosses’s table, the boss makes up any lame excuse that you could possibly come up with to defend this co-worker. So, I don’t care about kissing my bosses’s ass, no thank you!

  11. Brandon Smith says:

    Sounds like you’ve got a really bad boss. It is possible that there is another side to this story we don’t know about, but given how it is negatively impacting you AND that your boss isn’t doing a better job clarifying the situation, I suggest getting a new one (boss that is)!

  12. Lucca says:

    My boss is very kind to me and most of my Co workers, but ever since she hired am old boyfriend of hers she has been treating everyone horrible. She yells at me and one of the other workers, then her old boyfriend breaks rules/policies and things and she’ll see him and just laugh. What should I do? My other Co workers tried to tell her something wrong that he was doing but she just got really mad at them.

    Any suggestions?

  13. Brandon Smith says:

    That is a messy situation – the makings of a TV drama. You’ve got politics, dysfunction and romance all rolled into one. That being said, from my perspective, that can’t last. Something will have to give eventually. The boyfriend will get tired and leave. The boss will lose key employees. They’ll have an affair and will get caught (and subsequently fired), etc… If you have patience, I would wait it out and document everything you see quietly. You’ll likely be asked later for evidence.

    However, if things turn from dysfunctional to abusive, I would recommend going to HR and perhaps looking for another workplace home. I would not recommend tolerating this this type of behavior for an extended period of time. Good luck and hang in there!

  14. Dina says:

    My boss favors one or two managers over everyone else I believe based on her personal feelings and the fact that they make her believe that she needs them.
    They are both bullies and neither do the work they claim they have done. They are clever at getting others to do their work but they are praised over everyone else and their accomplishments. She is totally hoodwinked but treats this anger as though she is a fabulous leader when that manager is just manipulating our boss to her advantage

  15. Brandon Smith says:

    This sounds messy and frankly, horrible. You’ve got several choices in front of you:
    1) It seams that you have a good handle on what your boss’s soft spots are (feeling needed). You could find a way to play the same game by stroking your boss’s ego and asking for help (Ex: “Oh boss, you know how much I respect you and value your opinions. I’m stuck. Could you please help me get unstuck? I just don’t know where to turn”… sigh… swoon…).

    2) You could try to become better friends with the “cool kids” (the bullies) and see if that helps to deflect their dysfunctional behavior. Not a fun path to go down, but it could relieve some pressure.

    3) You could throw your hands up and say “I’ve had enough.” Begin the job search and look for the ideal boss. That should be your #1 priority so you don’t have this happen again.

    Good luck!

  16. Everett Backstrom says:

    Brandon, thanks for this. I’m experiencing this same issue, and I’m looking elsewhere, as I’m tired of reporting to someone whose moods are mercurial. I’ve used a pseudonym, as Silicon Valley isn’t that big a place to remain unseen.

  17. lulu says:

    why should I turn myself into a pretzel to just overly please my boss? I do my job, I do not miss deadlines blah blahblah do not like me? hey, good news, I do not like you either. I would rather redirect that energy into finding another job with a more healthy environment. duhhhh

  18. Sharon Hughes says:

    I work for a large corporation and our manager is ineffective, sneaky and I’ve confronted him at least 3 or 4 times over how he lied to me about opportunities available. He talks down to women, bullies them whenever he thinks his he can get away with it. I’m preparing a summary of complaints to provide to HR – I’m not the only one who feels this Created with Photo Editor- He’s a an ass.

What do YOU think?

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