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Office Favorite Makes Me Want To Abandon Ship

Dear Office-Politics,

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?

Ready-to-Abandon-Ship


OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN

dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Ready-to-Abandon-Ship,

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.

Sincerely,

Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success


cover of Survival of the SavvyRick 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.

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  1. 6 Answers to “Office Favorite Makes Me Want To Abandon Ship”

  2. It’s not possible for me to build any relationship with my office princess. She has made it abundantly clear that she wants to be my friend and turn me into some kind of surrogate daughter. Weird or what? My only way of dealing with this is to keep her at arms length as much as possible as she is so objectionable and strange.

    By carole on Jul 17, 2007

  3. Is it a lost cause if a member of your team and yourself are in competition for a management position and that person has the halo effect and wants nothing to do with you as you are a major threat? i.e. More qualified and educated and more experience in the profession. The other person is in company 8 years, I am in over 2. What do you think?

    By Mr possiblygonenextweek on Jul 21, 2007

  4. I am in a similar position, only I recently told the “favorite” off. This person has cried and complained about her duties so much that co-workers, to include supervisors, do not go to her for assistance unless there are no other personnel available to assist them. There is high turnover in the position similarly assigned to her because her duties are routinely “dumped” on the other person, which, over time causes them to leave. I have observed this for several years and finally got tired of co-workers (supervisors as well) complaining to me about our manager’s failure to deal with this person’s lack of cooperation and avoidance of work. I am now looking for a new job because this has gone on for years and this person cannot retire for several years.

    By A Bagley on Aug 10, 2007

  5. Hi Drs. Brandon and Seldman,

    I read your post “Office Favorite Makes Me Want To Abandon Ship.” Very insightful way to describe the halo effect, in addition to the fact that you gave “ready to abandon ship” some solid pointers on how she should handle the situation.

    I actually referenced your post on my blog http://www.laborrelations101.com. Thank you for the post. Take care.

    Jason J. Greer

    By Jason Greer on Sep 8, 2007

  6. I’ve got a doozy of a princess with a halo – She’s hung around for DECADES but does absolutely nothing except send personal e-mails and call girlfriends ALL DAY. This person has numerous perks, never uses vacation time when she takes time off (3 weeks this year already), and has complains NON STOP when anyone dares to give her an assignment. What’s worse, the rest of us are forced to listen to every single development in the life of her little precious children (adults) and are treated with a serious cold shoulder if we don’t jump for joy. She’s got a golden halo, though. Refuses to retire, and contributes NOTHING to this place.

    By Sheesh on Mar 19, 2008

  7. We are in a small office (family owned) business with 12 office staff. There is a purchasing agent that has the power to take the boss (owners son) golfing every chance he gets, acts superior to all other staff, even to the point of looking down his nose at everyone (literally). He does not have the skills that others in the office have but because he coddles the boss at every chance, especially on the golf course (no others in the office golf), and is loud and haughty around the office. the rest of us have been there longer and work as hard if not harder at their jobs, put off outside interests to help out but this person gets all the praise. It is a small enough office (spacewise) that all can hear his braggings. Being nice to this person only brings his contempt. How do you handle this?

    By Frustrated on Apr 21, 2009

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