5 Simple Ways to Handle Nepotism in the Workplace
In a workplace environment, everyone desires a fair, merit-based treatment by employers. That is not always the case however stressful or frustrating it may be.
Nepotism is a form of favoritism that includes hiring and promoting relatives and/or friends over other (perspective) employees.
The opinions of nepotism vary depending on the experience with it. If you have benefited from the practice you will probably favor it, and if you have experienced some of the disadvantages of it, you will feel negatively about the practice.
What is important to know is that nepotism is deeply rooted in our DNA and centuries’ long of practicing it will not and cannot allow for the complete eradication of workplace favoring people close to us.
We inherently trust people that are our family and that we consider friends, and establishing trust in the workplace environment is one of the crucial elements of doing business successfully.
So what, then, is the problem with nepotism?
The main issue that rises is favoring relatives and friends who are not qualified for the job.
This is impeding the professional progress of the qualified individuals, leaving them frustrated.
This, in turn, leads to lower morale, and that leads to weakened productivity and lesser success of the company, overall.
CULTURAL ASPECTS OF NEPOTISM
There is a substantial difference in how people look on nepotism (aside from personal experience). In Western society, it is generally frowned upon.
There are some instances where we consider nepotism a completely normal practice, for example, in some sort of creative career paths.
We consider that the creative gene is inherited so it is completely normal that we see sons and daughters of famous actors, writers and musicians follow in their parents’ footsteps.
However, in businesses like law and medicine (and others that are not considered strictly creative) we expect some sort of merit.
You cannot expect to be a successful doctor if you are not studying hard, learning from mentors and gathering experience from the bottom up.
In China, for example, the family is really the most important institution, and on many occasions, it is impossible to make a progress if you do not have a family member to back you up on your career path.
It is completely normal and expected to hire a spouse or a daughter, or even an in-law, and this is not restricted to private family businesses, it happens in public companies regularly.
India, however, has a large number of family businesses where the sons and daughters are trained to take over the family job when the time comes.
Nepotism in family businesses is not unnatural for Western societies either.
Just think about how many companies go by the name ‘X and Son’, or ‘Y bros.’.
They are keeping the business in the family, ensuring that the later generations will have a steady income and safe livelihood, and there are not many outsiders who can steal their trade.
Business partners are also chosen from your friends’ circle, especially when starting off a business, you trust them, you respect them and you know their work ethics.
Those are some of the advantages of practicing nepotism in the workplace, and they mostly relate to family businesses.
WHAT ARE THE DOWNSIDES OF WORKPLACE NEPOTISM?
Nepotism can harm both the employers and the company.
The company can lose its customers, experience less productivity, lowered quality, and potentially even bankruptcy due to the fact that the good employees that have been overlooked would feel frustrated which would lower their morale, and possibly cause them to resign and look for a better option for them.
So, how does the company suffer from unfair nepotism?
If employees perceive nepotism they might feel frustrated which lowers morale.
If they feel that no matter what they are doing the boss would always give all the best and most lucrative projects to his nephew, they will probably start to slack off.
Why do your best when somebody else will get a raise or a promotion?
It is not the smartest move; however, it is how people’s psyche works.
In addition to that, the service your company offers will start to decline as the best workers will either stop working as effectively as before, or they would decide to desert the unfavorable work environment in search for a job that will allow them to go upward on the career path, rather than stagnate.
Low morale also causes the formation of employee groups or ‘clicks’ that often engage in gossip and badmouthing either the manager who is unfairly praising their relatives or the said relative just because they are taking advantage of the favors they are given.
These conditions do not make a healthy working environment and do not allow that the company functions as a tight fit unit.
Other things that can happen are some legal and financial implications, as nepotism could be considered a type of discrimination.
However unfavorable it may be, though, nepotism is not illegal. In spite of that, employees might choose to file a complaint or make you face a lawsuit accusing the company of discrimination and creating a harmful work environment.
Even if the employee does not manage to make a case, it would still cost the company to hire a lawyer and pay for the fees, not to mention that going to court hearings is not an enjoyable way of spending your time.
If you are in a managing position at the workplace and recognize this pattern of behavior in yourself and/or your peers, you can take action into your own hands and fix the problem or avoid it, to begin with.
Surround yourself with non-relatives, or if you are favoring them, make sure that they deserved it by something other than ‘they are family’.
You could create a document that clearly states the company’s policies, practices, and values.
This would help all your employees feel safe even if they are working head to head with your daughter, and avoid the common problems you might encounter when hiring relatives.
With relatives and friends working for you, you might be inclined to praise them more in order to avoid personal conflict, even though they did not deserve it.
All relationships come with baggage in this case, and you can end up bringing issues from home to your work, which reflects poorly on both parties.
On the other hand, especially with sons and daughters of business owners, the performance expectations can be exceptionally high, which leads to the burnout of the individual and of the business itself.
What happens if you are on the other side of things?
What can you and what should you do if you are the one being overlooked by the boss in favor of a relative or a friend?
First of all, make sure that the reason that your colleague has gotten that promotion, or a better office, or the best project just because they are related to the boss.
Companies that run a business successfully pick out the best among the employees and give them the advantages; they put their trust in the hands of the most capable ones.
Is it possible that the boss’ son has worked hard enough and long enough to deserve the opportunity? If that is the case, it is perfectly okay for the boss to make that move.
However, if that is not the case, you are facing a true form of nepotism with favoring the relatives unqualified for the job.
Give it time, and learn how to identify the problem.
WHAT CAN YOU, AS AN EMPLOYEE, DO?
Now, which actions can you take to make sure you are feeling comfortable and respected in your workplace if you have, in fact, observed nepotism as a pattern of behavior between your colleagues?
1. Control your emotions and behave professionally.
The key to surviving and finally advancing in your job is to always be on top of the situation.
Nepotism is stressful to experience, even if you are just an innocent bystander and are not affected by the said type of favoritism in any way.
And if you are the one on the short end of the stick, then your frustration grows. You might feel all kinds of emotion which cause you to want to do things that are not regarded as professional.
It is normal, we are people and we are driven by our emotions.
Frustration, resentment and even anger are what people commonly feel in such situations.
Feeling it is okay, acting on them without thinking about the consequences- not so much. You should reserve expressing negative emotions and venting for your friends and family outside of work, or use some other means to get rid of the negativity.
In order to try to get an objective look of your own feelings, try to imagine that you are one of those people who are not directly affected by the unfair favoritism in question. Think your actions and comments through. Is there a possibility that you would come across as petty and jealous?
If there is, you should probably refrain from making that comment and taking that action. Show your colleague and your boss how maturely you can handle the situation.
And for a more selfish reason, the comments can come around, people talk and will probably say what they heard you say, and this can come to the ears of any of the involved parties which can possibly turn out bad for you as you could be qualified as a whistleblower.
Aside from being promoted or hired over somebody who is more qualified, getting better benefits without an objective reason, or doing more prominent work, nepotism can take a form of getting away with the mistakes that they make.
Giving a person a second chance to change something that has proven faulty in the past is a great teaching and managing strategy, on the other hand, if this continues over and over again without consequences, you might be facing nepotism.
Is it okay for you to behave that way and expect to get away with it?
Of course not.
Even if you notice that some employees are favored in that way, your behavior should be spotless.
Make deadlines, do not be late for work, do not complain and do not engage in silly gossip.
2. Take note of your work.
This is crucial especially if you have decided to go and report the nepotism to the HR or another person in high in the company’s hierarchy.
Why in this case particularly?
Well, if you are pointing out that somebody else is rewarded without valid grounds and by that, either directly or indirectly, suggesting that you might be better for the job, there is a great chance that your superiors will take a closer look on you.
The reason for that may be that they are trying to take your critique seriously and influence the change for the better, or they might even feel attacked and (wrongly) accused and would subconsciously try to justify the action of, say, promoting that other person instead of you.
Even if they are favoring somebody, sometimes that happens unconsciously, it is so genetically encrypted into our nature, that we do not notice some patterns of behavior unless somebody points them out to us.
So if you are being looked more closely than others or than before, you should make sure that you are doing your job thoroughly, responsibly and effectively.
Take notes on the progress of your projects; follow them through until the end.
If possible, pull out some statistic data about how your work influences and benefits the company. Be organized so well that you know at any time where you can find the information about something that you have worked on before.
Nobody can work without ever making a mistake, and when that happens try to show them that you are correcting them and in due time.
In addition to that, if you have successful assignments to show for, you might want to approach your boss and ask for a better and more responsible assignment. You would be ready and you would have your previous work ready to back you up.
In this way even if the boss has practiced nepotism before, they will have to take you and your work into account if they want to keep you and if they want the company to develop further.
Next time, you may not be overlooked. Your work will make the case for you, without you being characterized as emotional and regarded as someone who is not minding their own business.
3. Ask for advice.
Who you can ask for advice on such a situation?
First of all, you may try to talk to your coworkers. Examine if they have experienced a similar situation in your workplace and if the situation turns out to be a mutually perceived problem, you can work it out together.
Again, pay attention that you do not come across as gossipy and jealous.
Another thing that you can do is consult your mentor. They might have a better perception of what has been happening as they are in the workplace longer than you.
They know if similar situations had happened before and, if so, how had they been resolved.
Your mentor may also give you advice on how to improve your own work performance which will put you on the spot for advancement.
Other options that you have are: to talk to the HR or some other executive.
In both cases, it is of high importance to be prepared for that conversation and to execute it seamlessly, without ruffling any feathers or appearing as a “brown-noser” in the eyes of your superiors and coworkers.
Make a discrete appointment without raising suspicions or making dramatic scenes, all the while being professional.
Your preparation for the meeting should consist of carefully selected particular instances of nepotism.
Document those in as much detail as possible; provide the option for witnesses if possible as well.
If such a document exists, provide evidence of the company’s policies that are being overlooked by the behavior.
In order to appear professional, do not let your emotions get you. Calmly make your case.
The best option is to present it as your concern for the overall progress and morale of the company, rather than something that is affecting you personally.
Some psychological studies show that one of the harmless ways to draw attention to bad behavior is to put that person in a position to give advice about that behavior.
In this particular case, you could approach the very person who you consider is practicing nepotism, and ask for advice on that type of behavior.
4. Make yourself feel better.
It is understandable that unfavorable working environment takes a toll on your personal well-being. It causes stress and, what is more, it makes you feel bad about yourself; lose confidence in your capabilities.
Many people take the work frustrations out on their family members, which does not help at all.
Your home should be a place where you can relax, ask for advice and support.
Taking your job home might be one more reason to avoid working with relatives.
How do you make yourself feel better aside from having your family by your side to support you? Take care of your body. Take up a sport, exercise, take daily walks at least.
Physical activity helps you release the tension that has gathered up during the working hours, leaving you feeling better about yourself.
If nothing else, you would be too tired to overthink the workplace nepotism after a vigorous workout.
Exercise also helps to clear your mind, get a new perspective, and gather physical and mental strength to get up in the morning and face your issues.
If you feel like it, you can go on therapy, work on your mental well-being.
You could take up gardening, play with your children more, get a dog… The options are endless.
Find something that you enjoy doing, something that consumes your thoughts, something that gives you relief and fills your batteries, and keep on doing it.
With time, you might come to the conclusion that the fact that the manager’s son got a better office and did not earn it is not as important as what you are doing for yourself.
There is always next time. And there are ways for you to make your point.
5. Get yourself out of the situation.
Think about how serious the unfair favoring is.
Is it harmless and it is just bugging you because you are personally sensitive to the injustice of any kind, or is it jeopardizing your and the careers of our coworkers?
If it is harmless, let it go and turn to making yourself better, if not, leave.
If nothing helps you to solve the problem for yourself and if the nepotism grows more and more visible and is hindering your professional progress you could consider resigning.
This should be your last resort, as you should not quit just because it became a little hard or challenging.
If the nepotism goes over your limits, take a risk and look for a new professional opportunity, nobody wants to work for somebody who does not allow personal and professional growth.
The problem with this is that no matter where you go, chances are that you are going to come across similar cases of nepotism since it has existed for centuries and will exist for many more.
Whatever your experience with nepotism may be, whether you practice it, benefit from it or find it aggravating and hindering your first step towards dealing with it is accepting it as it is – a common pattern of behavior.
People are ‘social animals’ and we cannot go without personal connections even in the professional world.
Make peace with it and do not let it ruin your health and work or personal relationships.
Hopefully, some of these strategies will help you cope with the problem and feel better about yourself.
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