How to Avoid Double Standards in the Workplace

How to Avoid Double Standards in the Workplace
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What Is Favoritism?

Favoritism or double standards in the workplace can take many forms. For example, as the business owner, perhaps you love supervisor Louie because he’s not only great at his job, but he makes you laugh and well, he’s also the best player on your bowling team. When incentives or promotions come around, Louie is always your first choice.

As an employer, you may think, “So what, Louie deserves it!” But if you dig deeper, what if you find out good old Louie sexually harasses the gals in the office or is a bully to almost everyone he comes across? Not only can you get in trouble for Louie’s actions, such as an employee lawsuit of those harassed or bullied, you also need to step back and remember that Louie is an employee, not your best buddy and certainly not your BFF!

Keeping the Distance

As a business owner for many years employing many people, I have repeated over and over again to my business partner (my husband) that famous quote from Howard Hughes: “I am a corporation and a corporation has no feelings.”

While this may sound a little harsh, when it comes to your employees, you should pay attention to it, especially if you do indeed favor one employee over another. Some ways to identify favoritism or the double standard include:

  • Do you invite only certain employees to your home?
  • Do you always hand out company sports tickets to the same employees?
  • Do you have trouble remember some of your employee’s names or call them the wrong name?
  • Have you given kudos to an employee even though you know he or she didn’t do the work?
  • When pay or merit raises come around do you hand them out to some employees without performing set performance review standards?
  • Are the same employees taken to lunch by you all the time?
  • Do you participate in after-hour activities with only the chosen?
  • Do you laugh along with your favorite employees when they tease or talk about co-workers?
  • Do you allow only certain employees to utilize company equipment for personal use?

If you do only one of these on a consistent basis, you have a problem with double standards in the workplace and you need to intervene and get back on track.

What You Need to Do

Keep Your Distance

First off, make a list of your employees from entry-level to management. Beside each name, be honest and write down what you’ve done for that employee lately in terms of favoritism—be truthful here. If you see a consistent pattern, it’s time for some change.

Stick to the Rules – Let your employee handbook and your HR policies and procedures be your guide. If they clearly state rules on favoritism when raises are achieved, stick to those rules. Also keep in mind the procedures for disciplining employees. Chances are your favorites need a warning now and again.

Keep Your Home Life Separate – You guide, work alongside and pay your employees but that doesn’t mean they need to be invited into your personal life—on any level. If Louie is the only employee allowed to be on your personal bowling league, how do you think that looks to other employees? If you invite Jill to dinner once a week because your spouse enjoys her company, rethink that as well.

Make Suggestions - If you have that special employee, sway them by making a suggestion to discuss work with a supervisor or co-worker and remind them you are in charge and busy.

Get Feedback – Often employee focus groups can help you determine if favoritism in the workplace exists on a scale you didn’t realize. Rely on HR management or an outsider to run the focus group with pertinent questions on how each employee feels about special treatment at work. Once you’ve gathered that data, it’s time to set a plan.

Devise a Standard – Again, you can rely on your HR team or use an outside resource; but you need to develop a plan so all employees, no matter what their level on the company ladder, are treated fairly. This applies to raises, incentive programs, promotions and other benefits your company offers.

For business owners, especially the small business owner, workplace double standards are more the norm than not. Avoid being a friend to your employees and patting only a few of the chosen on the back. You’re running a company, not a family reunion so remember to keep every employee on your staff happy, satisfied, and rewarded when deserved.


The author has been a business owner for over 17 years.

Howard Hughes Quote - “Citizen Hughes” Drosnin, Michael, 1987 - Henry Holt & Company

Image Credits:

BFF Necklace courtesy of Amazon

Distance - Slideshowmom/MorgueFile