I often write about ways to build relationships with your followers (usually employees). We all want to feel “at home” while at work. Co-workers can become friends- indeed, often that is the hope! But workplace friendships can also cause tension with the rest of the team – particularly if you’re the one making friends or otherwise getting close to someone at work.
Say you have two workers, Jose and Maria. Both are bright and do their jobs well, but you just get along with Maria better. The two of you ‘vibe’ well together. You and Maria sometimes get lunch together and drop by each other’s desks just to chat. Let’s also say that your vibe is apparent to everyone else in the office.
You have picked a favorite. Maybe you didn’t mean to and maybe you even shied away from it. Nonetheless, the word is out. Now you’ve got a problem on your hands.
Favoritism is a problem for many reasons and not always the ones you think. There is the jealousy factor: other co-workers will grow to resent Maria as well as you, for the preferential treatment you give her. They will say that it’s not fair, that you can’t be an unbiased boss.
There is the disciplinary factor: what if Maria makes a mistake? Does Maria take advantage of her preferred status by slacking off in her work, coming to work late or taking extra-long lunches? Are you going to be able to handle the situation like you would with any other employee and merit out the appropriate response?
There is the production factor: if other workers feel that you save your preferential treatment for Maria, they lose their incentive to work hard. They may coast through their work. Worst case scenario, they may leave the company. What is the point of working hard if you’re going to give preferred status to someone else?
Picking favorites is a very human thing to do. It can be almost impossible not to. Don’t try and fight the feeling that you have a favorite employee. That’s a losing battle, and one where you could end up overcompensating by treating them poorly. Instead of trying to control your feelings, control your actions. Be fair at every turn. Share opportunities for responsibility and for glory. Ask for input from everyone in the room individually.
Great leaders shape the environment. Every action you take contributes to that. Think carefully about how you present yourself at work with your employees, and consider what those actions do to shape the environment you are all in. Make it one where everyone is heard and given a chance to excel.