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What to do about vague allegations of favoritism?

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Q: “On a recent employee opinion survey, my staff gave me a terrible rating on favoritism. I have no idea why they feel that I’m biased, since I try to be very consistent in applying policies and enforcing rules.

“I do have a closer connection with certain employees, because we share common interests, but no one receives any special treatment. What can I do about this?” Misunderstood Manager

A: Since you are dealing with perceptions, not facts, your employees may have a completely different interpretation of your behavior. Suppose, for example, that “common interests” cause you to regularly have lunch with particular staff members or chat with them more frequently. The others could easily view this extra attention as favoritism.

Let us further suppose that you decide to send one of your lunch buddies to a professional conference. Although this decision may have been based solely on her need for training, others might see it as a perk for one of your pets. An accumulation of such examples can earn you a reputation for playing favorites, even if that is not your intention.

The first step towards better survey scores is to objectively evaluate your interactions with employees, then make an effort to distribute your attention more equally. If the survey was conducted by your human resources department, you might also consider asking the HR manager to conduct confidential follow-up interviews with your staff.

The moral of this story is that managers should always be aware of the messages sent by their actions. While it’s perfectly normal to enjoy the company of some people more than others, you must be careful not to make that preference obvious.

As a manager, how good are you at motivating your staff? Here are some helpful tips: Six Secrets of Motivational Managers.

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