I work in a very small business (about 11-12 employees). How do I handle an office favorite?
We have one co-worker whom the bosses dote on and she can do no wrong, she gets taken out to special lunches, gets preferential treatment, unearned days off etc… However, she does less than nothing, preferring to shove responsibilities off on others and taking the credit.
Employee morale is at an all time low. Do I abandon ship?
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN
In your letter to us you are asking two questions:
(1) How do I handle an office favorite?
(2) Do I abandon ship? (i.e. Is this so bad that I should leave?)
Let us quickly answer the second question and then spend more time on providing tips related to your first question.
In terms of should you leave, we would say no. You probably have a strong sense of fairness and this behavior on the part of the bosses offends you. Why stay? We didn’t read anything in your letter about you being mistreated. Your bosses are demonstrating an unfortunate bias called the “halo effect.” The “halo effect” sounds like a positive thing but it has a negative effect on team members like yourself and eventually the bosses and even the recipient of favoritism.
The “halo effect” is an undeserved benefit. Someone is given the benefit of the doubt in all cases; imbued with qualities they don’t have; policies are not enforced; their achievements are magnified; and their failures are often rationalized away.
There are many reasons why leaders slip into this overly rosy view of certain people. When we coach leaders we teach them skills to avoid this bias because the behavior stands out in neon to everyone on the team and reflects poorly on their leadership.
However you, if you stay, are in the position of having to deal with it. Given your feelings, you may have a tendency to avoid this woman or even bad-mouth her. That would be risky behavior. Her position with the bosses gives her immense power. She can hurt you and you cannot touch her unless she makes blatant mistakes.
We would coach you to try to overcome your feelings towards her and build a relationship. She has access and influence with the bosses and is in a position to help you sell your ideas or yourself.
Unfortunately, the “halo effect” is so common that if you left, you would probably run into it again. In fact, many people have experienced the “halo effect” in their own families if there were multiple siblings.
Whenever we can in a seminar, and as coaches, we try to eliminate the “halo effect” on teams. You may not have enough power to change things and unless you have a safe way of pointing out the behavior we would be careful. Many bosses, unfortunately, will interpret feedback about this as criticism.
If there is interest in future letters, we can describe why some people benefit from the “halo effect”, and what leaders can do to guard against this bias.
Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success
Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.
Publication note: This letter was originally published in 2006. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.