The key is to make sure those personal opinions don't influence decisions regarding employees' work assignments,and day-to-day treatment.
Employee favoritism doesn't just create morale problems; it can also create legal trouble for the organization. That's because employees may view that preferential treatment as illegal discrimination, based on their race, age, gender or religion.
Studies show that managers often unknowingly give the benefit of the doubt to employees that they like, even employees who are average or subpar performers. Such managers focus on their "friend" employees' strengths while zeroing in on the weaknesses of employees they dislike.
A study in the Harvard Business Review found that most managers would rather work with "lovable fools" than "competent jerks."
5 questions to identify bias
To determine if you let personal opinions cloud your judgment (and treatment) of employees, ask yourself these questions:
1. Do you routinely accept excuses from certain employees who deliver below-average performance? Managers more readily accept explanations from employees that they like.
2. Do you dismiss certain employees'by saying, "But he tries so hard"? That's a common justification for giving likable poor performers the benefit of the doubt.
3. Are you "personality neutral"? Think about one employee who you like and one who you don't like. Does your personality change dramatically around the likable person?
4. Do top performers distance themselves from your favored employees? The best employees resent the preferential treatment of less talented employees. As a result, top performers avoid the lovable fools.
5. Do poor performers hang out with favored employees? The worst producers may hope to gain's favor by associating with well-liked employees.
Final tip: Neutrality is important, but don't talk yourself out of liking an employee. Likability is part of a person's competence, especially in customer-centric positions. Instead, don't let your opinion stop you from being tough when needed.
While it may be uncomfortable to approach employees whom you like about their performance or behavior problems, it's vital to becoming an objective manager and avoiding legal complaints down the road.