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Play favorites at your own risk

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Admit it: You like some employees more than others. But let's keep that our little secret, OK?

The perceptions of your workforce matter more than you may realize, so playing favorites is a classic de-motivator to everyone else. Research by Jennifer Mueller, an assistant professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, shows that theft, bad-mouthing and other "harming behaviors" that spring from poor morale are more likely in organizations that workers deem unfair.

Playing favorites fuels a perception of unfairness, so motivate employees by treating them equally. At staff meetings, give everyone a chance to talk. Even if your favorite employee makes the most valuable contribution, encourage others to offer their input. Acknowledge good points from every speaker.

When an employee produces stellar work, spread the word. Just make sure to recognize outstanding contributions from everyone--even the typically middling performers who suddenly surprise you with a burst of excellence.

When you shower an employee with preferential treatment, you may think, "This will motivate others to earn the same treatment." But instead of competing to win your favor, disgruntled workers may envy the peer who basks in your accolades. That can undermine teamwork and sow dissension.

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