One of the serious problems we most often find in employee engagement surveys is the perception of management favoritism. This is a difficult issue to solve, because top-performing employees should experience better outcomes at the organization than do mediocre or poor performers. Some employees always will perceive favoritism to exist, since their definition of a world without favoritism is one in which equal outcomes are assured for all. In a capitalistic society, this is a pipe dream. When we talk about dealing with management favoritism, we are referring to equal treatments in response to equal behaviors, not equal outcomes.

To address the issue of favoritism, policies must be clear (funny how the solutions to so many problems are rooted in communication improvements) and implemented with consistency. If there is a policy of penalizing employees for being late, the policy should be in writing, it should be made clear to all employees, and all employees must suffer the same consequence for being late. If certain qualifications must be met to be considered for an internal job posting, a favored employee without such qualification should not be able to apply for the job. This sounds like a simple matter, but it isn’t because there are so many ways in which favoritism can rear its ugly head.

If your survey finds that favoritism is one of the key issues that is harming employee engagement, it is a good idea to go back to employees for examples of where they have observed it. If their complaints are related to lack of equal outcomes, e.g. “Susie got a bigger raise than I did,” then there isn’t much you can do, short of clarifying expectations. On the other hand, it is very possible you will obtain a list of concrete examples of where people are indeed receiving different treatments in response to similar behaviors. If this is the case, you then will be in the position to identify how do address each issue, either by making certain a policy is clear or making certain managers adhere to them.

Favoritism and corporate politics often go hand in hand. Serious attempts to address one issue often will improve the other.