When envy, gossip, exclusion or revenge get going, it doesn't take long for a productive, harmonious team to turn into a dysfunctional, miserable crew. Make sure you're not contributing to such problems by playing favorites—without knowing it. Here are four important questions to ask yourself:
Whom do I socialize with on my team? When we pick and choose among our employees, we run the risk that others will feel shut out and envious. Some kinds of activities—such as after-work happy hours and, especially, dating—are best enjoyed with people who don't work for you.
How do I distribute our workload? When one person is overloaded, arrange for others to help out. And make sure the same person doesn't get stuck with a particularly nasty task time after time. On the other hand, you can always find a reason to be easy on one person on your staff. Make sure such situations are temporary, well-understood by the rest of your team and consistent with the way you'd treat other employees in their times of need.
Do I always enforce our work rules? It helps to start with a set of rules that are well understood by the whole team. Don't let yourself make exceptions for the same person on a regular basis; if you do, you can't expect everyone else to follow the rules. Even if you don't expect that compliance, some team members will take the rules more seriously and follow them anyway—and you'll still be dealing with perceptions of favoritism.
Am I careful with my praise? Praising employees when they deserve it will rarely cause resentment among other employees, unless you overlook other employees who deserve your praise just as much. But it is possible to overpraise a team member; the manager, instead of regarded as a supportive boss, will be seen as playing favorites. Most damaging of all is praise given to someone who doesn't deserve it—even if you give that praise in an attempt to get that person's performance to improve.
If you haven't discussed a professional development plan with your superiors, do so now. Let them know if you want to expand your role within the enterprise to best use your talents. Introduce yourself to the managers in departments where skills you have, but aren't using now, are most needed. Offer to pitch in and take on occasional projects when needed.