my boss favors one person on our team

A reader writes:

My boss supervises seven subordinates, and frequently goes to lunch with one in particular. Our boss travels quite a bit, so is often out of the office. However, when he is in the office, we all notice that he goes to lunch with his “favorite.” It seems that the “favorite” may sometimes initiate this, but the boss doesn’t turn him down. In addition, recently when I was with the boss and the “favorite” in the boss’ office, the boss thanked the “favorite” for helping him move some furniture from his house into a storage unit over the weekend.

This situation is noticed by everyone and it bothers all of us. While it may not be unusual for a boss to like one subordinate more than others, it seems unprofessional to make it so obvious. We all believe, but really have no way of proving, that the “favorite” is likely to be receiving better evaluations, pay increases, and bonuses. I do not believe that the “favorite’s” work product is any better, and may actually be a bit worse, than everyone else’s. I try to tune this out and simply focus on my own work, but it annoys me, and brings morale down. I don’t see what can be done about this other than finding a new job. Should I just suck it up, or move on?

Yep, you’re right — it’s unprofessional.

And this is a good illustration of why you really can’t be friends — or appear to be friends — with people you manage. Even if it’s not impacting your objectivity (a big “if”), you’ll still appear to be playing favorites to others.

You’re also right that there’s not really anything you can do about it. (Although you could certainly mention it if your manager’s manager solicits feedback on your manager at any point or if your employer occasionally solicits feedback, if you trust either of those options to keep your input confidential.)

As for whether you should leave over it, I’d say that depends on how much it’s impacting your own experience there. Leaving your favored coworker out of your thinking, do you feel that you’re treated reasonably well and compensated appropriately for your work? If so, I’d try not to speculate on whether the favorite might be getting MORE than you are, and focus on whether you’re happy with what you yourself are getting. If that’s not the case though, then that might be reason to look around — but then that would be the case even if your favored coworker weren’t in the picture.

{ 107 comments… read them below }

  1. bigcat*

    Same thing here, maybe worse — the favored one here is allowed be over an hour late every day without making up the time, plus has been enlisted to spy and report on the nonfavoreds if they have a single hair out of place. No exaggeration. It’s awesome and morale is just sky high.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Does the favored person coming in late affect everyone else’s workload? Is he exempt or non-exempt? Is he’s exempt, I would be annoyed, too. But if he’s non-exempt, he would only be paid for the time he’s there so he’s only hurting himself by not putting in the hours. If he’s non-exempt and getting paid for hours he’s not there, that’s another issue.

      1. Zillah*

        But even if he’s non-exempt and therefore not being paid for the time he’s not there, he’s still leaving work for other employees to do – and, perhaps more importantly, most people can’t just show up late on a regular basis without being disciplined, whether they’re exempt or not. Being non-exempt doesn’t mean that you are effectively entitled to make your own hours, and especially if he’s the only one doing it, that is unfair.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          But maybe that person has an arrangement with the manager to come in later because of having to get the kids off to school, or maybe the job doesn’t require him to come in exactly at 9 am. We have several employees like that at our place. They don’t interface with customers and don’t support the branch office, so they don’t need to be here at a certain time.

        2. Rose*

          In this situation, it seems like there’s obviously something wrong. I would just say that in less clear cases, I hope people hold their judgment. I have a medical condition that requires me to go to the doctor’s about three time a week. My boss allows it, because I’m damn good at my job and I work from home to make up the hours. (Most people in my work don’t have that option.) I choose not to tell my co-workers. I’m a private person, people have treated me very differently in the past, and I don’t want to discuss my medical issues in the office (everyone’s a doctor when you’re sick).

          I’m pretty sick of my co-workers sarcastic and passive aggressive comments about how I’m “late again.” My health issues are NOT their business, and judging me is not their place.

          1. Jen in RO*

            Well, if they have no idea that you have an arrangement with your boss, of course it looks like you’re slacking off. Not their business, but it’s impossible not to notice.

      2. bigcat*

        Thanks for asking. Exempt (forgot to mention the 2 hour lunches). It’s more unfair than anything else – everyone else gets the “where were you” interrogation. Also, in many cases, the favored person has a sort of finishing role – the last step in the process, and will sit on certain people’s things for days because s/he doesn’t like that person. The “solution” from management is “that’s just how s/he is for the last 10+ years, we don’t care, so deal with it”. Oh well, thanks for letting me vent.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Ick. Yeah, that’s pretty unfair. But since management doesn’t care then there’s really nothing that can be done about it. Sorry you’re in that situation. I’ve been there in the past and it sucks.

        2. AnonyMousyNonnyMouse*

          See, your example makes total sense to me. THIS behavior you’re describing seems pretty clearly unprofessional and inappropriate, because you’re talking about concrete and visible benefits the ‘favorite’ is reaping solely for his/her relationship with a supervisor, and that’s definitely something I could see myself being resentful of.

      3. Vicki*

        Why be annoyed if he’s exempt? If an exempt employee gets his work done, it doesn’t matter when he shows up. If he doesn’t get his work done, there are larger problems than when he shows up.

    2. troubled*

      the above is exactly true for me and the favored also produce sub standard work and get better ratings. If the employer doesn’t ask, how can we tell or let the employer know of such biaseness? What good could possibly be done without sounding petty but sometimes the biaseness is terrible to feel.

  2. Sourire*

    1. Man am I glad my boss doesn’t like me enough to solicit my moving his furniture in my spare time. I had a teacher like this once. I was a favorite and got the “privilege” of spending recess time in her classroom helping her tack up decorations, whereas everyone else was out on the swings. Some perk that was…

    2. It’s definitely unprofessional, but to be honest, I am not seeing too much that is all that bad here. You suspect this person is getting compensation perks due to favoritism, but you don’t even know if that is true. Even if it was, is it affecting you in any way, really? Do you think these perks are taking away from your (or your colleagues’) possible raises or bonuses? If so, that may be an issue, but otherwise I might lean toward letting this go. Lots of things are damaging to workplace morale and every office has some. If this is the biggest issue, you’re actually in a pretty good situation (at least in my humble opinion).

  3. KarenT*

    I love this post because we’ve seen a lot of comments here from people saying they are friends with their managers but it’s working out just fine. It’s a good reminder that even if it’s working out for you, that doesn’t mean it’s not impacting other people.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Yes, yes, yes! Because it is entirely possible that the manager and friend in question wander around telling peole how their friendship is not affecting their working relationship and there’s no bias or favortism but the LW and her co-workers are impacted and suspect there is.

      Not to diminish the LW’s plunging morale, but this pales in comparison to how bad it could be where you did not just suspect but outright knew that the favorite got special treatment, all the praise, the best or easy assignments, etc.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      I am the one you are probably referring to – everyone refused to believe me and I got a ton of responses in the comments section telling me that I’m delusional. This is very different than my situation – I am now my friend’s assistant (he was a peon when we became friends and has been promoted a bunch of times) and I am not competing with his other employees for raises and promotions. He has nothing to do with how I am compensated – our big boss does all of that. There is really nothing for people to resent. I’ve been working for him for a year now and it’s been nothing but great. We have a very collegial atmosphere in our dept. and his staff loves him because he is one of the only people here who takes the time to mentor and develop career paths for his group. And he never takes credit for their work, which is actually a big problem with other managers here.
      The only bad part is that it’s going to end sooner than I’d like because he is about to give notice.

      Sometimes people are able to handle themselves maturely and with integrity. Not sure why that is so hard to believe.

      1. Cat*

        Yeah, I think the situations is different when you don’t have a group of similarly situated employees with one boss over them.

        1. AB*

          Exactly. I’ve never seen it work well when you have multiple subordinates, and one or just a couple are close friends with the managers.

          Never affected me directly — I know to negotiate the salary I want and not bother “fighting” for bonuses — but I’ve seen many colleagues resent what everybody considered preferential treatment.

          I’m sure for the manager and favored subordinate, there was nothing wrong. People just don’t realize that they will end up looking for “confirmation bias” and using it to give better assignments, better rewards, etc., to a person they like. And the manager ends up losing because his/her team will never perform as well is it could, thus reducing the chances of promotion for the manager too.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I remember that thread, and I didn’t think anyone was saying you were delusional — just cautioning you that in the majority of cases things can go wrong with that type of relationship and also that everything often seems fine right up until the moment that it suddenly isn’t fine. It’s not about maturity and integrity; it’s about stuff inherent to that set-up.

        1. Julie*

          I became friends with a woman who told me about an open position working with her at her job. I applied and was hired, and we worked together, doing the same thing, for a while. We also got together outside of work (I was a bridesmaid in her wedding!). After a while, when a couple more people were hired for a temporary project, she sort of took over as the person in charge of the project, and she started thanking me when I left at the end of the day. I remember thinking, “What is she thanking me for? She’s not my boss.” Well, I was wrong. She became the “official” manager, and after a couple of permanent people were hired, she bounced back and forth between favoring me and making a concerted effort to NOT be friendly. The roller coaster of how she related to me made me angry, and it also made me feel stupid, like I should have known that she couldn’t be friendly to me if she was the boss and why would I expect that? I hadn’t worked in “corporate America” for very long before this job, and I was somewhat naive. I think it would have been helpful if she had a meeting with me and said that things were going to have to change due to the changes in the office, including the addition of new people. In the absence of that, it was an abrupt and puzzling change.

  4. Lillie Lane*

    My boss has a favored employee, but I love her, and she hates our awful boss as much or more than I do. She can get away with saying pretty much anything to him, and is the only one that can point out his lies, mistakes, and general BS without him getting mad.

    But it was really awkward last year when Christmas rolled around….he got her a Coach purse while my coworker and I got $25 Walmart gift cards.

      1. Lillie Lane*

        Yeah, and she was really angry about it. He gave it to her in private, so I don’t know how that conversation went, but she said it was almost impossible to refuse. The thing is, she has a lot of guts and will confront him about stuff he pulls, but he also says stuff to her that throws her for a loop and she clams up. For example, he says a lot of inappropriate things to her, and she has a hard time (in the moment) to tell him that it’s inappropriate. She’s also from a different country, and although her English is excellent, there are a few times she doesn’t understand a word or meaning, and by the time she asks me about it, the moment has passed.

        1. Nancie*

          Ouch. That sounds a lot more like harrassment than plain old favoritism. I can’t help but think of the movie Nine to Five, and the relationship between Dolly Parton’s character and the boss.

        2. Ruffingit*

          She should sell the purse and then take everyone in the department for an awesome dinner. Excluding the boss of course.

      1. Sourire*

        Per the response above about possible inappropriate comments in addition to the lavish gift, I think you may be onto something.

      2. Lillie Lane*

        Yeah, pretty much. He once showed up at her home at 10:30 pm “to wish her a happy birthday”, even though he had already done so at work that morning. Her husband was livid.

        1. Amy B.*

          Yeah… I’m seeing a “is this sexual harassment” letter coming from her in the near future. I’m not saying it is at this point but weird can turn to illegal in seconds.

          1. Lillie Lane*

            I went with her to our department head about it. He was receptive, but said that according to our university’s policy, she needed to tell the boss after another incident that she felt harassed, and that if she continued, then she should report it. He also told us that the university has a policy where incidents must be reported within 3 days!?!? Has anyone else run into this at their workplace? I couldn’t believe that there was such a narrow window/statute of limitations on this.

            1. LF*

              That is ridiculous. That kind of policy could get the university in even bigger trouble, because it means that the university now knows about it and isn’t responding. If it continues, it would not be a bad idea to consult with a lawyer. And, obviously, document everything.

              1. Lillie Lane*

                Absolutely. Part of the problem with the harassment arose because the boss’s wife is from the same country as my coworker, and they are sort-of friends. They also lent money to my coworker, and they kept changing the conditions of the loan over time (they claimed it was a gift, but then they changed their minds and wanted to be paid back). I think the department head’s point was that she needed to resolve the loan situation and keep her distance from them in their personal lives. It was a huge mess. It’s a bit better now, but the boss still says some ridiculous stuff to her.

            2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

              I bet your department head just doesn’t want to deal with it. Go to your university’s HR department– they may tell you a completely different story.

              1. Lillie Lane*

                That’s a good point. The department head is generally pretty hands-off and avoids confrontation himself. The other Big Problem with this situation is that I think my boss is able to get away with this stuff because he gets a lot of grant money. All of the other faculty in our department have wives that work here. They do work for their spouses, but since a spouse is unable to supervise a spouse, my boss also “supervises” these wives. He has gotten into it with the department head’s wife, big time. But I think the department head doesn’t want to deal with my boss because it might look like retaliation.

                I hate this place.

                1. MentalEngineer*

                  Allowing spousal hire within the same department? Unless you’re talking about a “power couple” on the caliber of Paul and Patricia Churchland (extrapolate appropriately for your field), this is a terrible idea.

                  And if the spousal hires aren’t academic (it sounds as though the spouses are assistants or similar), there isn’t even any reason to put them in the same department and this whole can of worms is avoidable.

                2. kelly*

                  There was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education in the past month and a half about the University of Missouri’s philosophy department and their practice of hiring couples for professorial positions there. I guess the article was sparked by a couple that separated rather nastily. That nastiness spilled over into their professional lives with the department siding with the husband who had his PhD and the wife leaving the department and the university with an ABD. In the article, it said that the university had this policy to attract and retain top quality faculty, which given the location is tough. There are fewer jobs that require and expect advanced education outside of the university in Columbia, MO versus in other college towns like Berkeley or Ann Arbor. One criticism of this policy both in the article and the online comments was that this policy took away a job from another PhD who potentially was more qualified than the spouse. In the humanities and social sciences, the limited number of tenure track teaching positions is a big issue and some didn’t see that policy as fair to other struggling would-be academics.

                3. MentalEngineer*

                  kelly, that was one of the recent incidents I had in mind, in fact. I’m in an area not unlike U of M’s, without many other draws for academics in my field (unless you want to spend 1-2 hours each way commuting to Chicago). There are options for spouses in other fields within my city, but not my own. The city is crumbling, the autumns, winters, and springs are all cold, the state government places a very high priority on cutting higher education funding…and we *still* don’t need spousal hire to attract talent that’s easily within the top 25-50 programs in the nation.
                  Obviously, this is anecdata, but I think you can see where I’m going with it.

            3. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That policy is a huge liability issue for the employer. One of the things courts look at in harassment cases is how easy a policy makes it to report, and what factors might be in place to discourage/suppress reporting.

              I’m shocked that a university wouldn’t have better legal counsel on something like that.

              1. Lillie Lane*

                I just read the university’s policies and I think he was mistaken – the three day thing applies to general grievances, not to harassment.

                1. tcookson*

                  Three days seems short even for general grievances; it could take me at least that long to second-guess myself and reach a determination as to whether I’m legitimately aggrieved or just overly-sensitive. A system like that seems to just favor the easily-offended and quick-to-complain.

              2. Ruffingit*

                They probably do have good legal counsel on this, I’m betting this is the department head’s misunderstanding rather than the actual policy of the department. I’m thinking the woman in question might want to skip her department entirely and approach the university’s legal counsel to discuss this. There are all kinds of WTF going on here and the legal department may not even be aware of it. They should be.

              3. Anonymous*

                Depends on the university, but many of them are pretty much immune to any charges of sexual harassment (and most other wrongdoing). They try pretty hard to keep numbers of officially reported harassment down, because it hurts funding and enrollment. When something does come up that would look ugly to the alumni, the first reaction is usually suppression. With sexual harassment, they usually have broad, institutionalized methods of suppressing official reporting. They do it for other things, too – injuries, assaults, property damage, etc.

                This woman is almost certainly not in a position to take on the university’s lawyers, so her only real recourse is to either get a new job or get rock-solid proof and take it to the media+police.

            4. Joey*

              I’m guessing he meant she needs to tell him to cut it out. I’m also guessing the window is more of a guideline to help with ensuring that facts are collected as soon as possible.

          1. Lillie Lane*

            Exactly. She’s had a hard time finding anything because it will be years before she can get citizenship. Plus she’s now pregnant and needs the job.

            1. Ruffingit*

              Is she on a work visa with the university? I’m assuming that is what is going on. If so, that just stinks because it’s trapping her in a bad situation. Perhaps she and her boyfriend will get married and he can sponsor her. This is just messed up, I feel terrible for the poor woman. No one should have to deal with that kind of crap at work.

        2. Zillah*

          Yikes. That goes way beyond an inappropriate crush – showing up at her door to wish her happy birthday is downright creepy, and the fact that it was so late just adds a further layer of squick. It’s a good thing she doesn’t live alone.

  5. BCW*

    I agree with Alison in that its more about if its affecting you negatively than just if she likes someone more. Just because that person is the favorite, really doesn’t mean they get more perks, despite what you think. If it is affecting your job, aside from just your perception, then I say let it go. However, it doesn’t sound like it. Have you ever asked this manager to go to lunch? I mean, getting face time with the boss isn’t a bad thing, so just because this “favorite” is proactive about it, doesn’t mean they are doing anything wrong. It would be different if you asked, the boss said no, then turned around and went with the other person. For all you know, they could be giving them more criticism in their evaluations.

  6. Wubbie*

    We have a similar favorite on our team, but that person definitely gets true favored treatment in many ways. There are blatant double standards. It sucks. A lot.

  7. Jubilance*

    My newish boss is totally playing favorites and it’s extremely obvious on my team. He also favors the men over the women, which is frustrating given that I’m a woman. The favorites get better assignments, lots of positive feedback and recognition of a job well done (especially to higher leadership), while us in the not favored category get all the grunt work and constant negative feedback even though we were all high performers before the new manager came on board. This week I and a female coworker received praise for a report we delivered to a customer, and my manager forwarded it to his manager…but proceeded to give our male coworker (who didn’t work on the report) all the credit & diminishing the roles that my female coworker and I played in getting the report to the customer – we did all the work but my boss decided to spin it as if our male coworker did.


    1. Victoria Nonprofit*

      Well, that’s something different – gender discrimination would seem to demand a different response. Alison?

      1. Zillah*

        And while it may not be illegal, I would imagine attributing work to someone who didn’t actually do any of it is also a major problem that should be brought to higher management, right? Especially since there’s a very clear paper trail.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, it certainly sounds like illegal sex discrimination. Jubilance, it might make sense to talk to your HR department about it. You don’t even have to use the word “discrimination” if you don’t want to go down that road; you can just report the facts you’re seeing and let them realize what’s going on. This is the kind of thing HR should be all over, because it’s a legal liability to the company.

          1. Joey*

            I’m sure you know- Go with details. If I were you Id also look around at things that aren’t always noticed:

            1. Is there a disparity in who he’s hired?
            2. Is there a disparity in pay?
            3. Do women get written up for things men don’t?
            4. Could there non discriminatory reasons for favoring the men (ie are they more tenured, experienced/qualified, etc)?
            5. Is there clear evidence you can point to that this is occuring? (I say this bc “good assignments” can be subjective)

            I’m not suggesting it is or isn’t happening based only on what you said, but frequently its worth it to step back and look around at the same things HR will look at to determine if its worth pursuing.

    2. Clever Name*

      That’s awful. The owner of my company is a woman, and she totally plays favorites with the men. It’s bizarro. Luckily, my manager (one of the favored men) isn’t like that goes to bat for me.

  8. AnonyMousyNonnyMouse*

    Caveat: I work for a creative industry that is admittedly more casual, so that may factor into my view here. However, based solely on what the OP reports here, I just don’t see the problem or unprofessionalism with this behavior, especially given that the boss doesn’t spend that much time in the office in the first place (so it’s not like it’s an every-single-day-to-the-exclusion-of-all-else affair). It’s clear that OP’s colleague has gone out of her way to build a strong relationship with her supervisor–and she’ll eventually be able to reap the rewards of that when it comes time to leverage her network.

    I don’t see anything up there (other than conjecture about evals and pay, which nobody but the supervisor and employee can know) that indicates that the colleague is receiving any visible perks–extra vacation time, greater hour flexibility, highly competitive/lucrative projects, etc. I also don’t see any evidence that the boss deliberately turns other coworkers away to spend time with this person, and nothing about the OP’s letter indicates that she herself has tried to build a relationship with her supervisor by engaging him in conversation and inviting him out to lunch.

    I mean really, is the boss supposed to set up a rotating schedule where he prompts each subordinate to invite him to lunch to discuss xyz so that nobody is offended and everybody gets equal time? Is he just supposed to close his door and have lunch by himself? Is he only allowed to eat lunch with his precise parallels in the company (no subordinates and definitely no supervisors! Hope there are a few Executive Corporate Directors and Vice Presidents of Research for Chocolate Teapot Making in that company…).

    I’ve worked hard to get to know all of my managers on a professional and personal level, and yes I invite them to lunches so that we can discuss topics we have in common off of company time, so I suppose you could say I’m similar to the coworker in this situation, which I admit does bias me in this case. I mean, if you’re shy, or anxious about getting to know people in positions of authority, I get that, I truly do, but I’m not to blame for that, and I shouldn’t be judged for the fact that I’m willing to go the extra mile to be seen as a person rather than an employee ID. And I just don’t see how this is generally speaking ‘unprofessional’ at all.

    And yes, for the record, I do get ‘soft’ perks for cultivating those relationships, because humans are social creatures and naturally gravitate towards those who engage them. So while I would never ask for (and my bosses would certainly never grant) ‘hard’ perks like more vacation time or pay for anything like that for any reason other than demonstrable results (which I can absolutely provide), I DO frequently get to be a part of interesting projects, meetings, and discussions that are outside of my scope and I credit that as much to my demonstrable skill as an employee as to my willingness to get to know my bosses.

    This got long and a little defensive, but honestly, after being bombarded with ‘NETWORK NETWORK NETWORK CULTIVATE RELATIONSHIPS’ on all sides (not by you, Alison, but by the general job-advice ‘public’), it’s frustrating to think people might be fuming behind my back and calling me unprofessional for doing just that.

    1. Jubilance*

      I get your point a bit on this – the OP doesn’t have proof that the favored employee is getting better reviews/bonuses/etc. But the appearance that the favored employee is getting a leg up can do a lot to drive down morale, which is why it’s not encouraged for managers to be BFFs with 1 employee to the exclusion of others.

      I’ve had lunches with managers, but maybe once a quarter, definitely not once a week or several times a week. I get networking, at my current company it’s required that you have 30min status meetings with not just your manager, but your peers, your manager’s peers, your director, etc. This can be a chat in their office or taking a walk or grabbing coffee. Maybe that’s a better way to do the necessary networking without it being seen as playing favorites.

      1. AnonyMousyNonnyMouse*

        I don’t really agree that mandatory ‘status checks’ equate to true networking (though I agree that all good managers should check in regularly with all of their subordinates). These checks are a direct extension of your job duties, and frankly making anything mandatory automatically puts the veneer of ‘lets get this out of the way’ on it, like a task to check off as done. I don’t see how those could possibly provide the same level of benefit (and by benefit, I mean visibility) that my way does–and I certainly don’t see how it could help me. Not to sound mercenary, but why should I sacrifice my ability to fully develop a network (and as a brown woman from a poor urban background, I’ve already got a hell of a glass ceiling over my head) so that others don’t ‘feel bad,’ especially when there’s no corruption in sight (i.e. nobody’s giving me money or gifts under the table, nobody’s letting me blow off work to get my nails done, etc).

        Networking, in my mind, is cultivating relationships–water-cooler talk, conversations about topics and hobbies you have in common, the kind of thing that makes you a PERSON rather than a worker bee. By doing what I do, I not only learn a hell of a lot, but I’ve become visible beyond my job description on a company wide level, and I’m intrinsically trusted with tough, complicated questions and projects–which I then deliver on, and reap the benefits of those completed projects more directly.

    2. BCW*

      I agree with you. If you go out of your way to cultivate a relationship so they know you and your professional goals, etc, while everyone else is complaining about the boss and their working conditions, why is the fact that you are being proactive about this a BAD thing?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s not bad on the employee’s side to go after that, necessarily. It’s bad on the manager’s side because he should be doing that kind of development with all his employees, not just the one he likes.

        1. Joey*

          Eh. If a subordinate asked me to spend extra time with him in sort of a mentorship role I couldn’t do the same for everyone at the same time. I’m sure the others might feel a sense of jealously and wouldn’t like me telling them they’re 5th in line. And if I felt doing it for him was the biggest bang for the buck Id do it. And of course everyone else would probably think he’s the favorite because I’m not going to tell them he’s not living up to his potential the way they are.

        2. BCW*

          I still can’t see why if one person goes after these opportunities more than others, that the boss is in the wrong. Maybe everyone does have one on one meetings, and this employee just decided they wanted more, so they are asking the boss to go to lunch. I think if the OP hadn’t made it clear that the employee and not the boss was the one to initiate the lunches, I could see the problem a bit better. But is the boss just supposed to say no, when the other option is to just sit alone? Now I can see how the moving thing looks bad, but without context you never know. Maybe they were out to lunch and his movers cancelled on him last minute. It just seems a bit, for lack of a better word, petty to be this upset when there is no proof of any preferential treatment in terms of work assigned or compensation.

          1. clobbered*

            Yeah. The OP says “It seems that the “favorite” may sometimes initiate [going out to lunch].”

            So, duh, OP should ask the boss out to lunch already.

            Note to my minions: I will go out to lunch with whoever of you asks me. I am not going to ask *you* out to lunch – it’s a social imbalance, because you might feel that you *have* to go because your boss asked you.

    3. Anonymous*

      I think it’s important to point out that the “unprofessional” behavior here is on the part of the boss. It is absolutely the nanager’s responsibility to make sure that there is no appearance of favoritism. There’s nothing wrong with an employee inviting a manager to lunch, but if the manager chooses to accept, she should make a point to offer to meet with each of the other employees for lunch as well.

      1. AnonyMousyNonnyMouse*

        I see what you’re saying, but I only agree with this to a point. I think a manger needs to ensure she’s checking in regularly with all of her staff for work reasons, but that can be distinct from her electing to choose her personal lunch hour to get to know people. And if a subordinate is making a real effort to get to know you as a person by inviting you out to lunch, why in the world should you as the manager have to then spend three times the effort chasing down all other employees who didn’t have that inclination to be able to accept the original invitation?

        Nothing is stopping the other employees from doing precisely the same thing, so how is this unprofessional on the part of either party?

        1. Mallorie, the recruiter*

          This makes sense to me. Being invited to lunch by a subordinate shouldn’t automatically mean the boss now has to invite all other subordinates to lunch. I can see both sides. I guess I am a lot like mousy in that I have always had strong relationships with my bosses and it has done me well. Sometimes its not about ‘playing favorites’ but rather one employee making a stronger effort than another. Bosses can’t FORCE employees to cultivate the relationship on their end.

  9. happycat*

    My last office, this was HUGE!!
    I reminded myself that while it was unfair, and unprofessional, I did not make less because of it. The down side was that when The Favoured One was my back up, she did not really back me up, and there was nothing I could do about it.
    Ironically, TFO hated our supervisor, and only used the favoritism to make fun of her behind her back and get what she wanted…
    It worked for TFO to a point.
    Oddly enough, our supervisor ALWAYS picked people as her favorites who HATED her.
    And, the perks were not always good. One of TFO’s had to house sit for her when she was on vacation.
    Actually, that workplace was so dysfunctional I could write a book!

  10. Andrew*

    Have you tried asking your boss to lunch? The ‘favorite’ might just be the only one that does it, so it appears the boss likes him more, when really the boss would be willing to have lunch with any of you.

  11. Yup*

    What’s your relationship with the Favorite like? Is the coworker okay generally except for this? Because one way to dilute the favoritism is to just befriend the Favorite. Bring the Favorite into the larger office group, which gets your team a built-in advocate with the boss. If you generally get along well with the Favorite, you can say, “You and Boss get along really well. I’m trying to build a better relationship with him. Do you think it would be weird for me to invite him to lunch sometime? Or the both of you?” Or some version of this where you note the relationship, and basically ask for advice on how to do something similar.

    I also wonder if the boss’s travel schedule is worsening this. It sounds like he’s away a lot, and is spending his time with the person who goes out of their way to socialize with him. If there’s a group approach that includes the Favorite (team lunches! group meetings! Kumbaya circle!), that may help to break down the walls.

    1. pghadventurer*

      +1 on the Kumbaya circle. That’s worked wonders for me and my boss’s relationship.

      (heh heh)

      1. tcookson*

        Yes, this can work if the favorite is not bent on excluding everyone else and soaking up all the favoritism for himself. When I started my job, my transition into acceptance by everyone was eased by my friendship with someone who has been practically everyone’s favorite for years. She would totally win in any dispute where it was her word against anyone else’s, but she uses her powers for good, not for evil.

  12. Newbie*

    I had this issue with a previous boss & job. A coworker and an assistant manager (AM) were friends, and spent time together outside of work. I didn’t care, until there was an issue between myself and the coworker, and the AM decided that I was in the wrong, and that coworker (her friend) was in the right. Since the coworker was flaking on her work which meant that I had to do it … Not cool.

    During an evaluation about the AM, I mentioned that, in my opinion, that relationship posed a conflict of interest and wasn’t fair to the rest of the workers. I got called into a meeting with the boss and told my opinion was wrong. Um, no. It’s an opinion. Mine. I wasn’t interested in changing my opinion, so we agreed to disagree.

    Not surprisingly, not too long after that, I moved to a different department – and got a different boss.

    1. tcookson*

      I didn’t care, until there was an issue between myself and the coworker, and the AM decided that I was in the wrong, and that coworker (her friend) was in the right.

      And this is an example of “everything’s okay, until it’s not okay”.

  13. Anon for this*

    My boss was told by Big Boss that separate people have come in-have actually scheduled on the books appointment times with an extremely busy person- to complain that my boss has a favorite on our team. Each time the proposed “favorite” was a different one of us. They shared a good laugh about that. The funny thing is, not one of the complaints had been from someone my boss supervises. No one on our team has a problem with how they or anyone else is being treated.

  14. Mike*

    I manage seven people, and I do have a favorite. He gets higher bonuses and raises and I spend more time with him. He also has a lot more flexibility with his hours. But that’s because he is really good at his job, produces more than anyone else on the team, can be trusted to work remotely with minimal supervision, delivers outstanding results, and is ready to move to the next level within the company, so I invest more of my time with him.
    His getting a larger bonus is not an outcome of his being my favorite. His getting a larger bonus AND being my favorite are both outcomes of him being the best on the team. So maybe in some of these cases, the “favorite” isn’t the best because they’re the favorite, maybe they’re the favorite because they’re the best, if that makes sense.

    1. Mike*

      To clarify, I don’t (intentionally) do anything overt to indicate a preference, but if I’m being honest, yes, I absolutely have a favorite and it’s not a coincidence that he is the top performer.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve had favorites too (and like you, it’s because they were top performers). And I totally agree that different people get different treatment depending on what makes sense for their role and performance. The problem here, though, is that the boss is treating him as a personal friend (all the lunches, the weekend moving, etc.).

        1. TwoCents*

          +1000. The person on our team who squawks the loudest about favoritism is the meanest, most negative, pessimistic, “I can’t believe they’re asking me to do my job” “everyone but me is a moron” employee. The person she complains about being the favorite is helpful, knowledgeable, positive, mature, and easy to work with…so the supervisors do interact with her differently. Because it’s actually a positive experience instead of a nightmare. I think some people just don’t get that you catch WAY more flies with (sincere) pleasantness and cooperation than with b*tch. Of course, squawker has seniority and does the actual job very well, so unfortunately management hesitates to cut out that particular bad spot.

          I do agree though, treating someone as a personal friend is just asking for trouble, even if it truly doesn’t affect anything else, if only because the perception will be there anyway.

  15. Sigma6*

    Sounds like someone is jealous to me.

    Worry about your own job and performance and stop making assumptions.

    I personally feel that if you have time to worry about things like this you probably aren’t busy enough.

    1. John*

      Doesn’t sound that way to me.

      If favortism is driven by anything other than merit, it is demoralizing and sends a clear message that what is valued is something other than performance.

      And, by the way, situations such as things can make it harder for people of different genders, orientations, etc. to have an equal opportunity to succeed and advance because other commonalities in situation are the basis for these friendships.

      1. Joey*

        Actual job performance is not the only important thing at work. So is being able to build positive relationships and being assertive.

        Someone I once interviewed who was from another country addressed the commonalities issues perfectly. She said it is my job to initiate those conversations if I want to make a name for myself here. If that means I need to find out what her interests are and what she likes to talk about so be it. If she likes to run I’ll do my homework and be able to talk about running. If she likes to visit museums I will learn about the museums here. I’ll do whatever it takes to build those relationships.

      2. Sigma6*

        Favoritism for the right reasons is just fine.

        It’s favoritism for the wrong reasons that cause problems.

  16. Not So NewReader*

    OP, do you guys like this boss? If yes, then it’s an easy thing to go forward with asking that you all have turns having lunch with him. You can all say “hey we would enjoy talking with you, too!” And sincerely mean that.

    My experience is that the snarky bosses play favorites. I can never figure out what my goal is – I definitely am not interested in having a lunch conversation dripping with snark. But the few times that I have suggested that perhaps other people would like to have opportunity to have one-on-one time with boss, that convo has not gone well either. I get to a point where I am no longer interested in trying to find remedies.

    I don’t see you mentioning that The Favorite One talks negatively about the boss behind his back. If there is no back stabbing going on this could mean there is some hope for this situation.

    I remember seeing similar things even in grammar school. Some people are just very good at capturing the teacher’s or boss’ attention. This could be the case here. You might get told “ok, we can do lunch. And while we on the topic of favors, I would like you to help me mentor The Favorite One because I have tried and I don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Maybe a second voice saying similar things will help.”

  17. Jim*

    This rule of Alison’s against friendships between bosses and reports is one that I think is incredibly short-sighted. A fair boss is a fair boss, whether they have personal friendships with their reports or not. Plus, in many organizations this is simply saying that the boss will never be able to be friends with anybody, because there are no real peers for them at their current level that they interact with regularly.

    A long professional association naturally leads to friendships and we’d be living in a sad world if we so strongly separate our personal and professional lives. There’s no doubt that personal friendships can complicate professional interactions, but so can personal animosity. Some of my retired friends and relatives still treasure decades-long friendships with bosses, mentors, reports, and peers alike.

    I think the letter writer should try asking the boss to lunch occasionally and try to evaluate objectively whether there is any real bias here. Are there specific opportunities that you feel you should be getting that you are not? Have you brought them up with your boss? If not, don’t focus on anyone else, make sure you’re talking with your boss about what you’re really concerned about: you and your career.

  18. Cassie*

    One of the employees in our dept is livid because she feels our boss likes me more than her. The nature of our jobs are different – I’m his assistant, whereas she is not.

    When I hear her gripe about this, I want to just shake her and say “so what’s your point?” Who cares if he likes you or not? He treats you fairly and respectfully – he treats everyone very well. I don’t get preferential treatment from him. Maybe she expects him to show her preferential treatment. Does he have to tell everyone that she’s his favorite or some kind of public display? It’s ridiculous.

    So there are situations where there is imagined favortism and when there’s perceived favortism. One employee was pretty much BFFs with the manager (did not report directly to the manager, but in the same chain of command). The two would go to lunch together, come back two hours later, etc.

    Their friendship was not what bothered other employees in the dept. It was the apparent favortism that bugged people. Taking 2 hours for lunch was fine for this employee, but all the other employees that the manager supervised got nit-picked for being 5 minutes late.

    Their closeness also made it difficult for the employee’s direct supervisor to, well, supervise – any time the employee felt slighted by anyone, she would go running to the manager. And the manager, rather than directing her back to the direct supervisor, would demand immediate and swift action on the alleged wrong-doer.

    The situation only resolved itself because the employee left. I think managers and supervisors should have the good sense not to be too close to any employee that falls under their general command – going to lunch occasionally is one thing, holding people to double standards depending on whether you are friends or not is another.

    1. Sherrie Hughes*

      Each situation is based on different reasons and I’ve witnessed various ones throughout the years. The general consensus here is not to do or say things to invite criticism.

      One thing I do completely agree with is how demoralizing it can be when favoritism really does exist and in many cases, cannot be fixed.

  19. Anon*

    For those of you who don’t understand the big deal about friendship with bosses in the workplace, let me share my current predicament with you. My boss has a Favored One. She briefly worked with our team (mostly the boss) on a specific task over a year ago. Even then, they were constantly hanging out both at work and outside. This stopped bothering me when the Favored One moved completely to working on another team, although their relationship continued to strike me (and others in the department) as a little odd.

    Fast forward. My boss is leaving. I’m up for her job. The Favored One, despite only having worked peripherally on aspects of the project and not actually having expertise in our focal area, has also put in for it. My understanding is that we are both going to be considered as finalists along with some external candidates. So here I am, practically doing elements of the job already and I’m competing against one of my boss’s best pals who has no management experience and is not a specialist in our area. Objectively, I am more qualified for this particular job, but I have a feeling that might not matter.

    Even the best intentioned people sometimes have trouble seeing their own biases. I get good performance reviews so this isn’t a matter of feeling that the Favored One gets perks that I don’t, I just find myself having to constantly fight for what I want because my boss loves to pull this person into our work for no reason. In this case, what I want is a promotion that I’ve worked my butt off for. I’m not thrilled about the uphill climb which is convincing my departing boss that she shouldn’t give this position to her pal.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yep. And even if she is somehow the better candidate for the job (which it doesn’t sound like), the way others see her promotion would be totally colored by this relationship. It’s unfair to everyone.

  20. Working Girl*

    I agree it is unprofessional. I would be careful you don’t come off as jealous. Stick to the facts and don’t make personal comments on how it makes you feel as opposed to how it affects the team. Unfortunately I’ve seen managers do this also and I agree it does affect the team. The manager may be benefiting from information the favourite is passing on as the manager is away a lot – maybe it’s not personal chats they are having as much as work chats. This person may be the office snitch so beware dealing with them.

  21. Relieved but still confused*

    I have to say it’s refreshing to see so many other people in the same situation (dealing with a favorite in the work place); however, there doesn’t seem to be a clear concensus on whether it’s unprofessional or acceptable. I have batttled with my emotions trying to justify or quantify my belief on the favorite. For me, the favorite is simply the favorite. She is not receiving any other ‘soft’ perk that the rest of us aren’t receving. We are all allowed to come in late, leave early, leave and return, be a few minutes late from lunch, etc. My boss and the favorite park next to each other in the parking lot, walk in together, spend nearly every lunch together, & walk out together. I could invite myself to join my boss or both at lunch, and would be welcomed, but I choose not to because I don’t care for their character. I wouldn’t want to associate & spend time with them outside of work. In fact, I tried to develop an outside friendship with both of them, but I couldn’t force a friendship for the sake of doing it. A boss & a favorite does pose a challenging work environment knowing they have a friendship aside from a working relationship. The issue for me is that my boss has loose lips. She will talk about other co-workers within our dept to the favorite & share upper mgnt info with the favorite. This makes it difficult to want to discuss sensitive subjects with the boss for fear she will share. (Our HR dept isn’t any better.) Another common theme I saw reading the threads is that the favorites tend to dislike the boss. This is the situation I see as well. I believe it’s unprofessional on the boss’ part to have this type of bond with her subordinate. It makes the other subordinates feel awkward, especially when their conversations end when you walk into the area. Maybe they were talking about you, maybe they were talking about something non work related; who knows, but it still makes for a stressfull environment. At the end of the day, their friendship isn’t impacting my career, it just makes for a challenging 8-5 day. And it lowers my perception of my boss and lands him in the no good boss category, which makes it difficult to respect that person. I don’t think we are saying a boss can’t have friends in the workplace but isn’t there a better choice for a friendship with someone from another dept or another manager?

  22. Lord Snow*

    Hi,I am not sure whether anyone would Read to do this but if someone do kindly guide me through this situation. We are a team of 3 people including my manager.Now the other person is a beautiful married girl and my manager who is single is looking for proposals for marriage. we work for a very small firm of 30 people and most of them r men and This in my team is the only pretty one in the office.Now the situation is my manager only prefers her in case of any assignment of new work or sharing some knowledge. He doesn’t even consider to ask for my opinion during any situation or anything when m I am having almost as much knowledge and experience as the girl in the team…Its very demoralizing and even if i Try to ignore it sometimes it haunts me a lot…Its just been an Year for me in This firm and i cant change the job just because of This reason…Kindly guide me for this.The manager clearly has a thing for a girl as he does not even speak to other men in the office.The girl innThe team used to b a good friend of mine but now i feel uncomfortable around them as They themselves chat and laugh ignoring the fact that m also present in the room..
    This she does intentionally or nt that is unknown to me.

  23. shaynna*

    I have seen favouritism far too much in my workplace, I think bosses socialising with subordinates outside of work is unprofessional, I am casual and a few years older than my boss who likes to go out drinking with 3 women who are a few years younger than him, and guess what they get all the hours even though I have proven the I can do a better job than them on occasions, very unfair. I have also tried to be friendlier to my boss and been shot down every time, but one of the favourites can come in and get a pleasant response when they say pretty much they same thing I’ve just said to him. I am now thinking of moving to another department as I am sick of it.

  24. Alex*

    So today, after 9 months at my first job of steady employment, I’m at a loss. I work in a european store, and my boss and two co workers all speak a few languages. I do not, and over time have noticed favouritism. And today my boss had said something and I acted appropriately, I turned to do the work. He got upset with my attitude because I guess I shouldn’t have turned away to do the work? I thought that was the point of him requesting it done was to gr it done. This caused a problem and as I was upset(I didn’t say anything as I didn’t want to have a fight or anything about my feelings being hurt)I found something to do while my boss and coworker(freshly returned from the Czech Republic) continued to do what they were doing. A few hours later, he had asked me to re soft and grind some spices. I said okay and turned to go do it, as this wasn’t a problem in anyway. Upon walking across the room he told me to go home. And obviously I have the right to know why, so I inquired as to what I had done wrong. After a few minutes of just trying to get me to leave he finally told me he didn’t like the look on my face! I wasn’t scowling or angry I just had a plain normal face, I wasn’t smiling but there were also no customers around and I wasn’t tending to anyone. I thought this was absolutely ridiculous! This is the second time he’s done this to me! While both girls are allowed to walk around with there phones out texting or calling there friends across the world – And having conversations all day barely tending to customers! I was so angry by this point I finally called him out on it, saying that he would never treat the other girls this way and that he favoured them as they could speak other languages. He responded saying the girls have never had a bad attitude with him or disrespected him. That I was lucky to have even kept my job for as long as I had not speaking another language – he hired me knowing I did not speak another language. It just seems so ridiculous to me that he would do this and I feel really wronged.

  25. big V*

    In my situation, I am a supervisor and my manager hires her friends. That hasn’t worked out in the past, but the last friend she hired is the “favorite”. The ” favorite” does stuff wrong without being mentioned. But God forbid another coworker or myself make a mistake or its WW3. I’ve been there longer and have definitely proved myself and my loyalty. The “favorite” started at my first pay raise scale without any just cause. When pay raise #2 came around, “favorite” matched me in pay. I know this because I was asked to distribute pay checks to employees and all checks were face up. Anyways, upon asking my manager about my pay raise, she swore that “favorite” did not receive as much of a raise as me and that she didn’t deserve that much of a raise when I did. She said that she would’ve spoke up if that was the case. I know that is a lie and I can no longer trust the manager and the “favorite” keeps kissing ass making us all look bad. What do I do? My trust is broken and work is almost done according to the managers feelings now. Do I stay or do I leave while I can?

  26. niubi*

    Our head of department joined recently. Many staff left – because people do when there is change. Our new head started to resent the 4 remaining team members as she hired in her new and improved employees (who were almost always her friends). My and my 3 colleagues who represent the original team started getting it in the neck, despite dealing with our job roles being changed dramatically. (Mine has been altered so I have more responsibility and more work, but not more pay or any more support or training).

    One day I got a bit stressed about my mounting work and was a bit brusk in an email to a non-senior colleague on another team who was being a bit of a pain (she lumped a load of work on me at 4pm on a Friday to be done for Monday morning). I basically said it was a bit out of order and I wouldn’t be staying late to finish it (we’re a US non-profit – staying more than an hour is generally not encouraged, especially for my team because otherwise we’d never leave). This email found it’s way to our department head and I was told off severely and made to cry. Our previous head would have backed me up, but the new one did not. I was made to cry because the attack was so severe and so personal. It went beyond work and became a critique of my personality and she basically said no one liked me and I was clearly unhappy with my life. I told her I was a bit stressed and she flipped out and said it was because I couldn’t manage my workload and I should stop blaming others. Yeah…

    My manager found out and was non-too happy, but also was too afraid to say anything. She then quit saying she couldn’t work with our new head. Great.

    Anyway, our head continued recruiting her friends to fill new roles in the team. The most recent of the recruitments is very junior and very lovely. We get on well. However, one day she exploded on the phone to a senior colleague in another team. The way she spoke to her was incredible. I initially thought she was arguing with her sister on the phone or something “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO! OK??”. Everyone looked up. Our new head did… and she smirked.

    Then said colleague didn’t come to work the next day. Or the next. And then, said colleague apparently gets signed off for a month. For stress. She has returned but is only working on days when she feels like it. Our head is really ‘concerned’ and does everything she can to support this colleague.

    Of the 3 of the original team, two of us have lost a lot of confidence and are always on edge around the head because she is unpredictable and flips out on us without warning. She will be lovely to me for weeks and then suddenly in a large meeting, she’ll chose that opportunity (it’s always got to be in public) to tear me down. Then if I approach her after the meeting she is all nice again and like, ‘Oh I wasn’t being serious’ or ‘When I asked you to get all that work done by tomorrow in front of everyone, I didn’t mean like, tomorrow tomorrow, just when you have time.’

    Weird. I feel like I’m learning to have thicker skin and learn, ‘It’s not me, it’s her.’ I’m very conscientious and have always been a star worker wherever I have worked. I’ve never had a manager dislike me.

  27. Tshepiso Kgomosotho*

    I have currently started in the new departmentme and the other guy, My bos normally gives the other more work task to do on a daily basis and that make me feel unproductive, and feel like she is setting me up for failure as he equip the other guy with more infomation, she does not give praise or complenet when I have done with my task but does that to the other guy, I normally send an sms to her when I am late or not coming to work she will respond when it suites her, amd as far as late coming she will not respond to my messages but she does to the other guy and go as far as thanking him to have made it to work. Please advise if I should look for another Job or what? I have raised this issues with her and our other boss, and it was discussed with her but it seems as though she does not want to change. She is forever angy when talking to me but speaks well with the other guy, please advise as this is really frustrating.

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