The Upside of Favoritism Module 3 Article Discussions: Please find 5 articles provided. You are to select three (3) of the five (5) articles and make your individual postings for the 3 you choose to read. Your postings should be a minimum of two paragraphs—in the first paragraph you will discuss the content of the article, and in the second paragraph you will describe your reaction to it and opinion about it. The Upside ofFavoritis1n- WSJ.co1n
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• June 7, 2013, 6:30p.m. ET
The Upside of Favoritism
Most bosses like some employees better than others-and
that can be good for everyone
• PEGGY DREXLER
As the head of the entertainment division of a major
public-relations firm in New York, Janelle was in
charge of no fewer than 15 junior publicists. She
knew that she shouldn’t play favorites, but she
couldn’t help it. Some . employees were just better
But what defined “better”? To Janelle, “better” might
mean those employees who delivered exceptional
results for clients. More often, though, “better” was
entirely subjective and undefined, even to her, as she
The Upside ofFavoritis1n- WSJ.co1n
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explained to me in the course of my research on
women in the workplace. (I have withheld full names
to preserve the privacy of my subjects.)
A 2011 survey
conducted found that
92% of senior business
executives have seen
favoritism at play in
Yet there was a clear advantage to being one of
Janelle’s favorites. They often got the more
interesting accounts. They were also entitled to
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special perks like free tickets to a client’s concert, off
-the-books vacation days, friendlier conversation in
the halls and more genuine interest in their personal
The nonfavorites were largely just tolerated. “To put
it simply,” Janelle told me, “My favorites were my
favorites, and I was very nice to them and maybe a
little disdainful of the others. I thought the better
employees deserved my better treatment, because
they’d somehow earned it.”
Maybe you’ve played favorites. Maybe you’ve been
the favorite. Most anyone who’s worked in an office
or team environment knows that favoritism is a fact
of nearly every modern workplace. A 2011 survey
conducted by Georgetown University’s McDonough
School of Business found that 92% of senior
business executives have seen favoritism at play in
employee promotions, while a quarter of executives
admitted to practicing favoritism themselves.
When we talk about favoritism in an office
environment, we usually have in mind how
preferring some individuals to others can damage
the team as a whole, creating rifts and fostering
resentment. In order to create a collegial and
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productive work atmosphere, we often hear, bosses
need to treat everyone the same way.
But this isn’t always the case-especially not if done
right, and for the right reasons. Recent studies show
that playing favorites can actually be a boon,
motivating and empowering employees in ways that
benefit the entire team.
A 2013 study by the University of British Columbia’s
Sauder School of Business and published in the
Journal of Business Ethics found that there is an
advantage to making certain employees feel a little
more special than the others. When treated better
than others in the group, the study found, employees
were more likely to experience heightened selfesteem, follow workplace norms and perform tasks
that benefit the entire group. They were perceived as
both more social and more productive.
What’s more, the study found, not playing favorites
may actually be a disincentive for those employees
who, with a little extra attention, might be willing to
go above and beyond. These are employees who
work hard for outward, explicit approval and who,
when unrecognized, may begin to work a little less
The Upside ofFavoritis1n- WSJ.con1
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As the supervisor of 10 real-estate agents in a large
and very competitive New York firm, Jason was
constantly trying to reward good work in a way that
motivated his employees, without discouraging
others. At the same time, he was a firm-and
upfront-believer in favoritism. “I was very clear
with the crew,” he said. “I said, ‘Look, I value results,
collaboration, kindness and perseverance. Those of
you who display these qualities are most likely to
receive preferential treatment from me. Your work
life will probably be better.” Those on his list of
“favorites” changed all the time, and the staff knew
that; there were always opportunities to get on the
boss’s good side.
And when he did single out an employee, he was
sure to do it without disparaging the others. “I
rewarded good work on its own, and never in the
context of others’ performances,” he told me. “For
instance, I would never tell an underperforming
staffer, ‘Why can’t you be more like so-and-so?’
Instead, I’d say, ‘Here’s where your performance
disappointed me, and here’s how I’d like to see you
make some changes.”‘
The strategy worked: In his first year, Jason’s team
outsold all others in the company. For many years
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his department continued to have a higher than
average rate of retention.
By being careful, selective and clear about his
methods, Jason had hit on an important aspect of
using favoritism to advantage: transparency. That is,
making it obvious to everyone in the office how they
can qualify to become a favorite, too. He showed
how favoritism can work when it is done for the right
reasons-related exclusively to job performance and
Janelle, by contrast, thought she was more likely to
favor those who worked hardest, but she eventually
realized that there were other patterns at play. For
instance, she was more likely to favor an employee
she had hired herself over one she had inherited. She
also had a tendency to like mothers and those who
had cats as pets. The message she was sending to her
employees wasn’t that favoritism was earned, but
that it was bestowed, based not on performance but
on Janelle’s unstated and arbitrary preferences.
Getting favoritism right is all about how and why
you choose to do it. Playing favorites with an
employee because the person is a friend outside of
work, the best-dressed in the office or simply a cat
lover is damaging to morale and to productivity. On
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the other hand, preferring an employee who works
or tries harder, performs better and delivers more
consistent results can be a very effective
management tool-and it can have beneficial results
throughout an organization.
Those who receive preferential treatment from their
bosses at one point or another report feeling a
greater sense of self-worth in their jobs. They also
tend to stick around longer. And eventually, they
may become effective leaders themselves.
-Dr. Drexler is an assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical
College and the author, most recently, of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers and .
the Changing American Family. ”
A version of this article appeared June 8, 2013, on
page C3 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street
Journal, with the headline: The Upside Of
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