Such is the regularity of workplace favoritism that a saying has entered the popular vernacular to typify the perceived unfairness of it all. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” sums up nicely the apparently un-meritocratic practices that have infected our organizations.
A new study from the University of Texas at Austin explores the issue of favoritism in the workplace, and in particular at how effective attempts to limit discrimination impacted upon favoritism.
“We need to reconsider what we know about the effectiveness of anti-discrimination policies and the advances against discrimination in the labor market,” says Jan Feld, an economist at Maastricht University and lead author of the study. “These two preferences generate different outcomes with different distributions of welfare, so that determining their relative size is economically important and, as we have shown, possible.”
The study was conceived due to the apparent similarities between favoritism and discrimination. The reality of course is that favoritism ensures positive outcomes for those you approve of, whilst discrimination ensures the opposite. This distinction leads to very different outcomes.
The research saw people judging the work of nearly 1,500 participants. Some of the judges had access to the gender and nationality of participants, whilst others did not.
The results showed that the judges tended to positively favor those of the same nationality as them, with no differences shown for gender.
Of course, such thinking is far from unique, with Kellogg researcher Ithai Stern revealing the seven distinct ways you can curry favor with your boss a few years ago.
Suffice to say however, favoritism does little for workplace morale, nor indeed performance and productivity. This is one of the big reasons why software such as that provided by Work.com is so powerful because it takes the appraisal process out of the hands of any one individual and spreads it throughout the workplace. Stripped of this power to make or break ones career, it inevitably has the side effect of discouraging sucking up to the boss.
Given how unedifying that whole experience is, that has to be a win win all round.