Get a Life

By Judith Welles

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Favoritism in the Office

Is favoritism in the office real or perceived? According to focus groups held recently by the Merit Systems Protection Board's policy and evaluation office, it may be both. Steve Nelson, MSPB policy and evaluation director, wrote about favoritism in January's "Issues of Merit" newsletter. Between 19 and 39 percent of employees reported that in the last two years they had been treated unfairly in career advancement, discipline, performance appraisals or job assignments.

When a boss routinely gives a plum assignment to the same person, favoritism is a prohibited personnel practice. But, at the same time, differentiating among employees based on performance may not be playing favorites.

According to Nelson, a good manager will not treat all employees the same. Employees have different competencies, previous work experiences, and current assignments. An employee with an especially challenging assignment may require more coaching or feedback. An employee with a higher level of expertise may be given more complex assignments.

An employee with strong team leadership skills may be promoted over an employee with equal technical skills. This is not favoritism but good management, Nelson wrote.

Still, such actions may seem like favoritism, resulting in low morale, resentment or even legal ramifications. A boss's simple lack of communication about what is going on can lead to misunderstanding and false impressions.

Nelson recommends that agencies take seriously why many employees believe they are treated unfairly and examine underlying factors. With many agencies stacked up on the low side of OPM's recent satisfaction survey, that sounds like a good idea.

Posted by Judith Welles on Feb 07, 2007 at 12:13 PM


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