what to do when you’re the boss’s favorite — and coworkers resent it

A reader writes:

This feels like a weird question to ask, but I’m having issues with favoritism at work…except that I’m the favorite. My boss CLEARLY favors me over other members of the team, and I benefit from great opportunities as a result. I try to be worthy of these opportunities – I always complete my work at a high level and in a timely fashion, and I volunteer for extra work that’s interesting to me or a growth opportunity.

His behavior has created a morale problem, though, and I’m bearing the brunt of it – people are making grumpy comments about how they aren’t getting the same opportunities or the level of face time that I am. I’ve encouraged them to speak up about the projects they find interesting, but he won’t assign them tasks beyond the most basic, boring things. I’ve tried to directly talk to him about the issue, pointing out the morale problems and how he might positively impact things by allowing others to do cool stuff, too, but he just dismisses it – we don’t have a morale problem according to him.

I don’t want to hide my own light under a bushel, but I also don’t want to be the office pariah. Plus, it’s becoming harder to get work done as people grow more and more disengaged. We could be much more productive than we are. Any advice on how to handle this?

Do you know what’s at the root of the favoritism? Is it just about personally liking you better, or is it about difference in work quality?

If it’s the latter, well … as a general rule, treating great employees differently makes sense. Good managers should give their highest performers different treatment — by definition, they’re capable of doing more and doing it better, so it makes sense to assign work accordingly, and it’s also particular important to invest in retaining them and keeping them challenged. And if your work quality is substantially different than your coworkers, it might not make sense to give them the opportunities you’re getting because their work (or time management, work ethic, or initiative) isn’t at a level that would allow them to complete the projects successfully.

If that’s the case, it would be better for your boss to be transparent about it with people — “I’m asking Jane to do X because she accomplished Y on the Z project” or “I’m asking Jane to do X because she’s always finished with Y and Z early” or whatever it is. If he’s not currently doing this, explain why it’s causing problems and ask him to be clearer with people. (In fact, transparency around this might eventually mean formalizing it by giving you a different title and job description, which might help things.)

But if you’re confident that your boss’s preferential treatment is based on something like just personally liking you and has nothing to do with differences in work quality, then that’s different. If that’s the case, I’d say to talk to him about the problem again. Since he apparently doesn’t believe there’s a morale problem, don’t focus on that element; instead, focus on the fact that it’s causing problems for you in your relationships with others and putting you in a position where you’re surrounded by resentful colleagues.

In addition, you might be able to use the fact that he likes you to try to elevate his opinion of others too — share positive comments about their work, speak up about any contributions that other people have made to your projects, suggest that Lucinda might be great for project X, and so forth. In fact, on that last one, you might even be pretty directive about it — like if your boss asks you to take on a new project, you could say, “It’s a lot of work, so I’d like to pull Lucinda in on it too unless you object.”

Beyond that, I would just focus on being warm, helpful, and scrupulously fair in your dealings with your coworkers. They might still resent the favoritism, but the more you can show that you’re not seeking it out or taking advantage of it, the better.

{ 99 comments… read them below }

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m coming at this not from an office POV but a personal one.  My eldest brother was the favorite, and it was pretty obvious to all family members except my parents, especially when my aunts tried to do an intervention with my mom.  (Bonus: my mom finally admitted it when she was coming out of anesthesia a few years ago.  HA!)

    Here’s what would have made our lives better and us less resentful:

    *What AAM said.  Offer to spread the benefits and amazing work opportunities around.  Tell (don’t ask) your boss that you’re going to do this.  If he has an issue, he’ll let you know.

    *Don’t hog all the praise.  If your boss is heaping it on you, point out your coworkers’ accomplishments too.  If you had assistance on a project, make it widely known who played a role.

    *If you get any perks that aren’t offered to others, let that be known to everyone else.  Don’t rub it in but casually bring it up provided it’s relevant to the conversation, “Bob offered me X so if you need X, feel free to ask him.”  

    *If your boss tells you to keep a benefit a secret, tell him it’s not cool to do that.  If it’s offered on merit, as the boss will likely say, then there’s no reason to hide that decision-making process.  Keeping it secret implies something immoral and/or illegal.

    *Don’t act like you’re doing anything wrong or in secret.  THAT will get rages and defenses flaring and rightfully so.

    Not everything will keep resentment at bay, but if you make every attempt to help and support your coworkers without rubbing anything in, that could go a long way.

    1. Triangle Pose*

      Wow, that family dynamic fascinates me. All of your tips make sense. I hope your older brother did this with you all!

      “(Bonus: my mom finally admitted it when she was coming out of anesthesia a few years ago. HA!)”

      I love this.

    2. Lillian McGee*

      Ha! My younger brother was my mom’s favorite but I only got her to admit it when she was in her cups.

      I am my boss’ favorite and I try to use my powers for good, e.g. praising others to her, tactfully bringing up problems or bottlenecks she is causing, and so on. It doesn’t seem like anyone resents me… maybe because they know I am the goodwill ambassador!

    3. Elizabeth West*

      My sister is the favorite now (it was my brother when we were kids, because he is the youngest and only boy). She has a better career than I do, makes more money, nicer house, she’s married, very stylish, much better looking than I am, etc. etc. She was popular in school also. She’s not a dick about it, but sometimes I feel very patronized when she compliments me. Sometimes I imagine that all my dreams have come true and when we’re all at Christmas dinner, people ask me about stuff and I actually have something to tell them. I can’t even imagine what being the center of attention is like (when I’m not screwing up, that is). :P Most of the time I just try to be as invisible as possible because I hate when people ask what I’m up to.

      I think this would drive me nuts at work, not inspire me, unless I had a job I was really invested in. If the favorite were at all condescending and the boss couldn’t be arsed to deal with any other employees, I’d probably just find a different job.

      1. JaneB*

        My (thin, blonde, glamorous, married-to-lovely-man-just-like-your-Grandad) little sis cemented her ‘winner’ status for all time by producing a grand-child! Fortunately I love being an Auntie (and getting to buy pink glittery overpriced noisy toys ‘Mum’ disapproves ofand niece adores is a definite bonus) , so it’s not too annoying of her.

        Everywhere I’ve worked there’s been a ‘Chosen One’ and I hate it. I know some of my reaction relates to childhood stuff, but some if it is just me being generically childish, and some of it is a convenient focus for annoyance at wider weaknesses in management.

        Mind you, I think it’s made me a better teacher and supervisor (the closest to actual people-management that I get in my role), because I make a conscious effort to make decisions on a solid basis and to explain them to people, and to note when my own actions might look like favouritism. But it’s no fun to have those horrible childhood fears and sense of abandonment/unfairness reawakened randomly in a staff meeting…

      2. Artemesia*

        When there is favoritism it often has nothing to do with your wonderfulness. My brother (AKA the only begotten son) was just Mr. Wonderful to my parents. And he was — he was a CEO by age 30, very wealthy and admirable in all ways. But I was very professionally successful, well known in my field, had a great family and while not wealthy, certainly adequately self supporting. He was still the favorite, always had been. I still always got to hear nothing but non stop stories of his marvelousness every time I visited. And until my mother’s death in her mid 90s, I got to hear the story of his birth and how thrilled my father was that she had finally done it right and got a boy. (I was the only daughter, not that that message would have been better received if I had been one of 5 daughters born before the only begotten son.) It never in all those years crossed my mother’s mind that that story would be painful to tell her daughter over and over and over. And she remarked from time to time that she was sorry that we were not as close as my own daughter and I are.

        1. catsAreCool*

          “she had finally done it right and got a boy” apparently he didn’t know that his genes were determining the gender.

        2. Julia*

          Ugh, yes. I used to watch a lot of Gilmore Girls in my teens, and often my mother would ask why we were not as close as Lorelai and Rory. And while she probably thinks that she treats her children the same and my brothers even claim the gives me Special Treatment (maybe using your daughter as a therapist from childhood on is considered Special Treatment somwhere?), she will. not. get. it when I say she has been so unfair to me all these years, letting my younger brother (and his girlfriends!) walk all over me.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Thats interesting. In my family, the people that are screwing up or screw ups get all my mothers attention because she lives for drama. I’m the good one (ahem as far as she knows) and she never even knows what’s going on in my life barely – like where I work or what I do – because she just wants to gossip about the latest thing my sister or whoever did.

        1. Sea Otter*

          This is what it’s like in my family too. My parents gave all the attention and sympathy to my youngest brother, who was always the one who screwed up or was flaky and irresponsible. Whatever he did was excused and he had golden child status and still does as an adult. Meanwhile I was the family scapegoat, because my parents favor boys over girls and well, I was the only daughter out of the 3 kids, so everything I did was picked apart.

          At my current workplace, my supervisor’s favorite is our department screw up, I’ll refer to her as Taz. It is driving the rest of us crazy, we cannot figure out how someone who has basically screwed up 90% of her work is the bosses favorite… and no, there was no nepotism involved with her hire. Otherwise, everyone else in the dept are all high performing and have their act together, and we are tired of babysitting and doing damage control when Taz leavea a trail of destruction wherever she goes. Even other depts have complained about her and nothing is done and everything is excused. It’s frustrating to see favortism, but even more unjust when the favored one is the screw up.

      4. Mallory Janis Ian*

        My husband and I both have the misfortune of not being the favorites in our respective families. The grandmothers on both sides are closer to other family members than they are to us.

        My mom loves my brother the best because 1) he is a boy, 2) he looks just like my dad who left her for his grade-school sweetheart when she had two toddlers and a baby on the way and 3) he was mistreated by my grandpa who was of the generation that believed it his responsibility to “make a man” of a little boy.

        My husband’s parents love his sister best because 1) she is a girl and 2) she is the only remaining girl after they lost their other little girl to a congenital heart defect when she was only four years old.

        When we were young parents, we used to try to talk to the grandparents about our kids, but my mom would talk back to me about my brother’s kids like we were rival moms on the playground instead of her being the grandmother of my children. My husband’s mom was the same way, except she told me that “No one likes to hear a mother go on about her children; it’s boring.” My child was only three weeks old, and I thought that grandmothers were supposed to be more interested in grandchildren than a mere acquaintance would be? I made it a point to never bother her about her grandchildren again.

      5. Cath in Canada*

        My sister and I managed to grow up each convinced that the other one was the favourite!

        She was extremely sick as a newborn (whooping cough – in ICU for weeks, almost died), and then in her teens was in a ton of sports teams AND was often in trouble. I was the quintessential rule-following older child and sucked at sport – my hobbies weren’t spectator-friendly!

        The result was that they spent a lot more time and attention on her than on me, whether it was fussing over her when she was sick to make sure that her head cold didn’t become dangerous (whereas when I got sick, they’d remind me that I knew where the aspirin was kept), going to her teams’ games (including overnight trips, during which I’d go to my friends’ for sleepovers), or being in trouble for staying out too long or whatever else she was up to. So I thought she was the favourite because of all the fuss they were always making over her, and she thought I was the favourite because they left me alone :D

        1. voyager1*

          I have to disagree with one point. I don’t think opportunities should be “spread around.” If you are knocking it out of the park and producing and your coworker just does enough, why should the manager invest in a just sufficient performer over a super star?

          1. Frodo*

            Because giving opportunities and investing in people makes them better at their job. Because one star performer can’t do everything.

      6. Jo*

        Ugh, family dynamics. Not only am I NOT the favorite, I always come in last. My brother is the golden child, the favorite who can do no wrong (and has also produced the long-anticipated grandchild), and while my mother is just as hard on my sister as on me, at least my sister is very successful in a (fairly) glamorous and well-respected job, smart, popular, and just generally has her life together.

        Part of the reason why I don’t want to leave my current job in my current location despite the danger, total lack of recognition of our hard work. and ridiculously low pay is that it is quite literally the ONLY interesting thing about me.

  2. AW*

    I’ve encouraged them to speak up about the projects they find interesting…

    I would say stop wording this as a suggestion. IIRC, there was a recent post here about how to deal with a complainer and I think the advice there would work here. The next time someone complains to you about this say, “You’ll have to talk about this with our manager” or “I have no control over this. You’ll have to take it up with the manager”. This won’t necessarily fix the morale problem if they don’t do that but you aren’t obligated to hear all their complaints about it.

    You could also tell them, “Manager asked me to do X because of Y” if your manager won’t but you really shouldn’t have to defend yourself when you haven’t done anything wrong.

    1. KR*

      I have to agree with this. It’s really nice that OP is giving them suggestions, but it reinforces the idea that if they go to OP with complaints about their boss she’ll have a solution for them. I know that OP wants to diffuse the tension between her and her coworkers, but at some point her coworkers will have to realize that there is a manager who is in charge of delegating work and they should air their grievances with that person, not OP.

      1. Sadsack*

        Yeah, I wonder what would happen if OP responds to the next complaint with, “Have you spoken with our manager about this?” See what they say. I’d be curious what the manager is telling them.

    2. BRR*

      This is a really good point. Unless the LW is a brown noser (which I don’t think is the case at all), the coworkers shouldn’t resent the LW (and even if the LW was a brown noser they shouldn’t treat the LW differently, it’s unprofessional in my opinion). There’s really not a ton a favorite can do. I would even guess that too much effort to not be the favorite would garner some ill will from the manager.

      1. Ophelia*

        There can also be a fuzzy gray area between “my work is really better” and “he just likes me better personally.” I had a good relationship with a difficult boss because he happened to have a similar personality type to someone I grew up with, and I understood how he thought; this good rapport allowed me to do better work. So I wasn’t actually *better* at the work than my colleagues, but boss and I were in this positive feedback loop of me cottoning on to exactly what he wanted more intuitively than others, which in turn would lead to good results, which would lead to him liking me better, which led to an even better rapport/good results/etc. Which to everyone else looked like “Ooooo yeah, Ophelia can just DO NO WRONG, can she.” I wouldn’t say this was a HEALTHY dynamic in the least — employees shouldn’t have to read their bosses’ minds! — but the fact that I COULD read my boss’s mind made me better at the work, and made him like me better personally.

        1. Dan*

          I’m a math nerd. I used to be the most blunt, literal person you’ve ever met. But over time, I’ve learned (not necessary the hard way, just a lot of observing) that *relationships* make the world go round.

          Some people work well together, some people don’t. That’s not a reflection of any one person’s technical knowledge or what not, just a fact of life.

          The best boss I ever had was someone who understood my strengths and his weaknesses. He and I had some of the most productive working sessions of anybody I ever worked with. Give him and me a white board and an hour, and we’d have a workable solution to just about any problem the team faced. Yes, I’m good at what I do, but an effective working relationship with a good boss just magnifies that.

          When I was laid off, it was a decision made over his head, and his boss’s head. (I did direct work for that one too.) Immediate boss said to me after I got the boot that he would have given up two heads to keep me. (And my salary was low for what I was doing… two months later I found a new job in the same space paying 25% more.)

    3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      Though not the way I would recommend going about it…one of my coworkers snapped at another one of my coworkers one day after being pestered about always getting “the good assignments” or getting assigned to “new things” and said “It’s because I ask for them!”

      He apologized for being snippy with his coworker, but low and behold, our formerly coasting coworker was now doing kick a$$ work and asking for more challenge assignments.

      I think sometimes people don’t realize how much you have to advocate for yourself.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I worked for a demanding boss who also was perceived as distant and unapproachable by most of my other coworkers, and they would complain about him to me all the time. For a while, I would coach them and give them hot tips on how to approach him and navigate his quirks.

        For example, when anyone would introduce a new idea to him, he would always push back in a big way. My coworkers were intimidated by him and would always give up when he challenged them. I told them that if they would just persevere in continuing the conversation, he would listen to them. That’s how I always worked with him; I just persevered past his initial challenge, and when he saw that I wasn’t going to go away at the first resistance, he would genuinely listen to me and I’d usually get what I wanted from him. I explained that dynamic to my coworkers over and over again. Also, if I knew that someone had retreated from negotiations with him and still needed something, I would bring it up to him later and get what they wanted from him.

        The more this dynamic went on, though, the more they expected of me. One person accused me of not speaking up to the boss enough! Finally, I realized that they didn’t really want to communicate with him; they wanted him to be wrong and themselves to be right and for me to fix him for them. (If I could fix my difficult boss, wouldn’t I already have fixed him for myself?!) So I snapped a little. I told them that I’d said everything I’d ever wanted to say to him. I told them that I hadn’t said everything that everyone else wanted me to say to him, and that I wasn’t ever going to. And I told them that I wouldn’t be the place where they came to complain about him.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          TL:DR: They thought I had some special “boss-whisperer” ability or that I was a favorite, and then they wouldn’t take my advice about how they could achieve the same thing.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I think “The Boss Whisperer” may be the next great TV show :)

            But you are absolutely right, a lot of times people don’t want to make the necessary changes to fix the situation.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Your last sentence is so true and I’m guilty of this quite a bit, although I’m getting better thanks to this site.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          It’s really, really hard to do…especially when you are unsure of how your boss will react!

  3. Kai*

    Depending on your relationships with your coworkers, you can acknowledge it with them honestly. My boss’s blatant favoritism of me over my colleagues has become a small private joke among a few members of our team, and it really helps in letting them know that I’m aware and not trying to take advantage of it.

    1. CaliCali*

      Agreed. I was once the favorite of a rather demanding boss. I recognized that 1) I would only be the favorite for so long, but also 2) I really didn’t have control over it. It became a joke because I knew it was a bit off-base — sure, I did good work, but so did many others. So I just acknowledged my bizarre golden-child status, but I never made it seem like I thought I was any better of an employee or person as a result.

    2. BRR*

      I like this. Not work, but my brother is the clearly the favorite. I have pointed it out and provided examples but my brother and parents won’t acknowledge it. My husband said after meeting everybody a few times that is was clear my parents treat my brother different and it felt so good to have someone at least notice it.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I also think if your brother acknowledged it, he might be able to carve out his own relationship -with you- that was separate from his w/ your parents and yours w/ your parents.

        Similar might help here.

      2. Dan*

        While I don’t think I can clearly say that my brother was the favorite, I always felt that they went easier on him because I was a bit of a stand-out. I mean, I had a lot of academic accomplishments as a kid, and earned lots of trips as a result. (At least, I saw those things as things I “earned” like academic summer camp, field trips to Chicago, that kind of thing.) To me, my brother would “get” things (like church mission trips) that I wasn’t allowed to do because I already did X. I used to be like, but I *earned* X, why is he just “getting” things? Never mind that my parents gave him a hand-me-down car and not me. And paid his cell phone bill in college, but not mine.

        Like I said, I honestly don’t think they considered him a “favorite”, but he just “got” a lot of things whereas I felt I had to “earn” what I got.

        1. LQ*

          This is a very interesting take. I was sort of like you where I had trips and scholarships and such but I would have never used the word earned on any of those things. (Not that I didn’t work really hard, earn good grades, do a lot of extra academic things etc etc, but I wouldn’t have ever used the word earned on them. My sister got to do a trip to Germany with her German class, I had been in German 4 years before (because we only offered one language, what can you do!) and hadn’t gone on the class trip (I was the only kid in years to not go) because I was saving all my money for college so I didn’t want to spend a few thousand dollars on a trip to Germany, because I earned all the money to do it myself. But I’d have never made that distinction. It’s an odd thing and is making me rethink if I earned those or not…Very odd.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I do consider the opportunities earned. My oldest child has had more opportunities than we would have been able to provide for her (and more than we’re able to provide her brother) because she earned them for herself through academic accomplishment. As a parent, I’ve regretted that my other child hasn’t been able to have the same experiences that she’s had because, of course, I want that for both of them.

            On the other hand, my younger child is a saver. When they were little, we gave each child an allowance, and he saved his and bought his own Nintendo DS. My daughter didn’t have a DS because she hadn’t earned it by saving her allowance for it. We finally got her one for Christmas over a year later. I felt a little bad that my son had paid for his and she was gifted hers, but then I realized that having his DS more than a year early was my son’s reward. He earned his early, and she had to wait for hers. That seems fair enough, I suppose.

  4. Two Tickets to Paradise*

    I was the favorite on my previous team. In my opinion, I didn’t do anything spectacular – I showed up to work on time, I completed all of my tasks on time and on target, and I was dependable. My former co-workers often rolled into work late and made excuses why they couldn’t get their work done.

    My former manager would often say to them, “Why can’t you be more like Two Tickets?” Of course that’s going to breed resentment. I finally had to ask my former manager to stop calling me out like that because it was making it a more difficult work environment for me. Former manager admitted she did this because she wanted my coworkers to improve. I gently suggested that maybe she have 1×1 conversations with my coworkers about their weak areas and keep them more personally accountable (she really struggled with holding people accountable for their work for some reason).

    1. Two Tickets to Paradise*

      I will also add that Former Manager was close friends with one of the people she managed (Sally) and let Sally slide constantly on her responsibilities. For example, Sally had been working on a simple project for a year (a year!) and Former Manager would ask her for updates every single week. When Sally got another job, Former Manager asked Sally to finish the project during her last two weeks on the job. Guess what – Sally never did finish the project.

      Some people just can’t draw those boundaries when it comes to work friendships, and I’m sure this was another reason why my former manager couldn’t hold people accountable.

      1. TrainerGirl*

        I worked on a team where I was seen as a “favorite”, but not for the same reasons as others. Our team was a case of married w/kids vs. single/no kids and when there were big projects or our boss needed people to stay late, there were some of us who always did. Of course, one of the married w/kids folks complained that she never got the good projects, but was always the first out the door and the last to stay late or take on more work. Now, some of the favorites were such because my boss really did like them more. I don’t know if my boss really liked me or just liked the fact that she could count on me, but she did reward my work and for that, I was grateful.

  5. newworldofwork*

    Eventually, if this isn’t straightened out, it is going to start affecting the OP’s work too. If this continues, the organization is going to have an employee retention problem that is going to make OP’s work a lot harder. it’s in the organization’s interest and OP’s for this to get worked out–the boss needs to be clear about his intentions and give others an opportunity to work on more complex/interesting/visible projects. Maybe someone else cannot do some thing as well as the OP can the first time, but they will never be able to improve if they don’t get the chance.

    It’s not smart in the long term to take the easy way, which is just to have the most skilled person doing the work all the time.


    1. Booster*

      Yep – as someone who used to be on the OP’s coworkers side of things at another job (and given what the OP posted)…it absolutely will lead to a retention problem if not addressed.

      My old boss was perhaps even worse – he had a couple of my coworkers that he clearly preferred to deal with, take out to lunch, send to (useful) trainings, come in late/leave early, take unscheduled vacation, etc….while the rest of us were expected to keep our mouths shut and be glad if we got a $20 grocery store gift card at Thanksgiving, let alone any training/certs or raises.

      I left after about 3 years, during which we also lost 2 other folks “fired” for flimsy justifications, 3 contractors in an attempt to fill their spots (also gone), a higher level person, my boss’s boss, and finally my boss himself after he apparently felt he wasn’t getting enough respect anymore.

  6. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

    Alison – is expecting more from perceived higher performers a Pygmalion effect? And couldn’t, in turn, expecting less of lower performers have a similar effect? Perhaps they are only lower performers because they are expected to be so. I saw something in the Harvard Business Review about this but of course I’m off to a meeting and can’t find it at the moment.

    1. Koko*

      I whole-heartedly believe this. Once you are marked as an underperformer in your manager’s eyes it becomes extremely difficult to ever change their mind, unfortunately – you may have to change jobs in the end.

      The mechanism I see this happening is that essentially nobody is 100% perfect all the time – some mistakes are normal. But once a manager is worried about an employee’s performance, they start monitoring the employee’s work more closely and calling attention to every small mistake the person makes – small mistakes of no significant consequence that would have been forgiven or perhaps not even noticed if a star performer made them instead just become one piece of data after another that reinforces your manager’s belief that you aren’t up to snuff.

      So while strong performers can make the occasional small mistake without it affecting their standing, employees marked as struggling end up having to perform at or near the impossible standard of perfection, for a continued period of time, in order to reverse their manager’s opinion.

        1. TootsNYC*

          The pull quote from that story:

          Up to 90% of all bosses treat some subordinates as though they were part of an in-group, while they consign others to an out-group.

      1. BRR*

        This happened to me following a bad reaction to an antidepressant. I was placed on a PIP and despite a substantial improvement in the quality of my work, my manager nitpicked about things that would be fine for others to do. This transitioned to her justifying me not meeting the PIP.

        1. JM in England*

          This was one of my earliest lessons about the workplace. Once your boss develops a low opinion of you, it’s almost impossible to shake!

    2. neverjaunty*

      Yes, this. Especially when people are higher performers because of the boss’s favoritism – favorites get the challenging assignments that let them grow and develop their skills, aren’t put on difficult tasks and aren’t blamed when a project has problems, etc. And of course morale affects people’s performance!

    3. Judy*

      Wasn’t there a study about elementary schools similar to this? All of the classes were assigned in a standard way, but one of the teachers was told that their class was made up of high achievers? The class ended up with higher grades and test scores than the other classes.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Yes, that’s the original study that found the “Pygmalion effect”. As you can imagine it was not well received by teachers.

        1. Renee*

          My daughter decided to take “regular” English (middle school) this year instead of honors (she sat on the paperwork until it was too late). The joke was on her though because the teacher is fresh from school and teaches both the regular class and the honors class in exactly the same way, with the same expectations, and she reports to her students that they perform exactly the same. I’m guessing she might be aware of this study.

          1. Dan*

            At my high school, we had a “College English” class for high-achieving seniors that actually awarded college credit. I wasn’t “good enough” to get in (my strengths are in math). What the HS wouldn’t tell you unless you asked directly, was that the neighboring technical college also taught a “College English” class that the school was obligated to pay your tuition for if you so much as asked.

            It’s kind of funny in a way, the smart kids get to take a class at the high school, and the “dumb” ones get to take it at a real college.

            1. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

              We had some AP classes. One I took because I was interested in the subject, but the other was Government and that was required for Senior year to graduate. I took it so that I would have less annoying “I’m only here because I have to be” idiots in class with me.

            2. Renee*

              The admission requirements for college and AP classes at high schools are a thing of the past, at least where my daughter will be going next year. They’re all open to all students. I’m middle-aged, and we had 3-4 AP classes and a couple of college classes when I was in high school, and for AP there were admissions tests. Her high school probably has 50 AP/college credit classes and anyone can take them (and the tests for college credit if appropriate). I was a high achiever in high school so those classes were open to me, but I definitely welcome this new world where anyone can take whatever classes they can manage, especially when it means lowering the cost of a college education for this generation. They also have two year vocational academies in different subjects at her school (medical assisting, cooking, fire science, etc.), and I’m encouraging her to choose one of those too. How great would it be to come out of high school with skills to get a job? I’m very impressed by the changes since I was there.

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                I like the new openness of entry into AP classes, because some kids who can do the work don’t test well enough to gain entry. They should be able to get in, and if it’s too much for them, they can go back into the regular class.

                1. Renee*

                  I agree. Either they can do the work or they can’t. There’s no reason to pre-judge that.

    4. periwinkle*

      There has been a lot of research on a concept called leader-member exchange (LMX). That’s the relationship between a supervisor/subordinate pair. A positive LMX leads to the supervisor giving more favorable treatment (opportunities for training, stretch assignments, plum projects, etc) to the subordinate; the supervisor also has a more positive interpretation of the subordinate’s performance. In turn, the subordinate demonstrates loyalty in an “I’ve got your back” way. Sometimes a high level of LMX is a positive thing and sometimes you get a situation where the boss is neglectful or dismissive of his lower-LMX subordinates (as appears to be happening in the OP’s workgroup). And yes, the research backs up the belief that this kills morale. A supervisor’s expectations can be strongly influenced by his perception of what he thinks he can expect from the subordinate; this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy in a good or bad way.

      I spent a semester writing about LMX theory and it’s always interesting to see real-life examples of it.

    5. Lora*

      Exactly! It works this way in education. If you are told your class of 4th graders is made up of the top 5%, they WILL perform as such, even if they actually comprise the bottom 5%. As a teacher, your perception of the performance level of your class, or individual student, greatly affects HOW you interact with them, how you challenge them and so forth. Which directly influences how well they learn. I have seen this many times, both in the classroom and in the work place by how managers treat the employees they manage.

  7. LiveAndLetDie*

    While the LW’s letter seems to indicate that what’s being seen as favoritism is unfair, and I do think that the manager dismissing concerns about a morale problem is troubling, I have to admit that without a clear indication that the LW’s work actually isn’t any better than that of her coworkers, I cannot bring myself to automatically fault the manager here for unfair favoritism. It may be that the LW is significantly more reliable for the tasks he is giving her, and has proven herself valuable to him in a way that her coworkers have not.

    However, if that’s the case and not just “I like her better for reasons,” then the manager is setting the LW up for an unfair burden compared to that of her peers, so the problem is still a PROBLEM, whether or not the preferential treatment has to do with the quality of her work. Relying on one employee to do X times more work than their peers because they’ve proven themselves to be good at it is a good way to cause burnout in your best workers, and misses the opportunity to get the other employees trained up to match. There’s definitely an issue here, I just can’t tell from what the LW has said where it truly lies.

  8. Anonymous Fundraiser*

    My boss has a clear favorite, and it does cause tension among the staff. It doesn’t really affect our relationship with the favorite co-worker (she’s great!), but it does affect the way that I view my bosses leadership qualities and is part of the reason I’m beginning to look for other work opportunities (not the only reason, nor the biggest, just one of the many).

    The advice listed up-thread is good, especially sharing the spoils and being transparent. If my favored co-worker was more open about the benefits she’s received (many of which are material), I suspect my boss might behave more equitably.

    1. Camellia*

      What kind of “material” benefits? Is it something like more interesting projects or is it something like gifts of some kind?

      I’m just curious, as others commentors speak of “spreading the benefits around”, what that would consist of.

      1. Anonymous Fundraiser*

        Favored co-worker (FC) received a gift card for Christmas while the rest of the staff received nothing. My boss also recently arranged for FC to receive a scholarship for training, and no one else was encouraged to apply. There is, of course, no money in the budget for professional development.

        My boss’s blatant favoritism has affected morale as others wonder why they don’t receive the praise and perks that my FC does.

        I like what a previous commenter said about using your favored status for good, and being sure to praise others and gently point out issues experienced by the team if you’re fortunate enough to have your manager’s ear.

    2. TootsNYC*

      Anonymous Fundraiser:
      You wrote: “It doesn’t really affect our relationship with the favorite co-worker (she’s great!),”

      And what does your Favored Coworker do that keeps you all from resenting her?
      Are there any lessons you can draw out that would help our OP create the kind of relationship that the Favored Coworker in your office has managed to have, despite the inherent difficulties?

      1. Anonymous Fundraiser*

        Great question! We don’t resent her because she does good work, she hasn’t shirked any responsibility or taken advantage of her favored status in an active way (she obviously still benefits from being the favorite, but she doesn’t seek it out, if that makes sense).

        I think other advice on this thread about spreading the wealth and advocating for the team are good lessons for OP as well.

  9. Former Retail Manager*

    I have dealt with this issue in the past with multiple bosses and approached it from different angles, including telling one to her face that she came across as “playing favorites” which she flatly denied, and I believe, truly believed that she wasn’t. In all cases it was a combination of work quality and just generally liking me better than others. There were others who performed just as well as me, but had different personalities and weren’t as well liked, and thus I ended up being the go-to. After all my various approaches, the best one seemed to be to sing the praises of others who either assisted me with something or just to point out something they did that was great that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. OP, if you are his favorite, for whatever reason, he will likely hold your opinion in higher esteem than that of others. I will say that it took varying amounts of time with each manager, just depending on their own personality. Some came around in a few weeks, while others took months of repeated pointing out. I also told a couple that while I would love to do X, I simply wouldn’t have time to fit it in, but Jane or Fergus would be great and they should give it to them. That never backfired on me.

    And for what it’s worth, I feel for you OP. It doesn’t really matter if you’re favored for your work or “just because.” Either way, it can create resentment among co-workers and other than making efforts to sing the praises of the good ones, I don’t know what else you can do. Some of them may never realize that you didn’t seek out this treatment. Best of luck!

  10. Teacher's Pet*

    I’m also the favorite on our team of 3. I’ve been working for my boss a lot longer (~5 years), and our third teammate only came on about 5 months ago. At first, there were a lot of bumps in the road for him being new, learning his job, etc. but my boss has over the past two months shared with me that he doesn’t think the third teammate is of the same ‘quality’ as I am. This has resulted in me taking over a lot of the responsibilities that would normally be assigned to that role – because he simply hasn’t gotten a handle on his own core responsibilities. And this SUCKS. I already don’t have enough time to do my own work, and now I’m doing this on top – I feel like I’m not doing anything that well.
    However, third teammate will often make comments about events and travel I am invited to (work trip in Bahamas, etc.), my ability to occasionally work from home without it being an act of god, etc.
    I know that third teammate may be becoming resentful – I am younger than he is by a few years but significantly senior to him – but it’s starting to come down to work ethic/work efficiency. Additionally, my boss and I do have a very good working relationship from working together for so long, so that may affect it as well.
    So, it’s not always a GOOD thing to be the ‘favorite.’

  11. Rat Racer*

    I was chief of staff once to a boss who had a clear and blatant favorite among her directors. The worst part of her favoritism was her unwillingness to give the other Directors on her team any of her time. They all had projects and products awaiting her approval, or needed her blessing on a critical decision, but were hitting a brick wall. The Favorite was the only one who could curry any face time with Boss, the only one whose emails she answered. The result was that the department was totally stymied.

    I bring this up to say that while it is normal and understandable for leaders to rain favors on their high performers, everyone needs a shot at being a high performer. A VP who ignores her entire leadership team (except for her chosen fave) and then holds them accountable for not breaking through her bottleneck is a truly miserable person to work for.

    I never get tired of listing all the reasons why that boss was a Toad on this blog. She was a walking textbook of what not to do in a leadership position.

    1. Lauren*

      Oh boy, is this familiar. I work at a community (two-year) college and one of the former deans here, now the interim VP, picked out a favorite employee and elevated him far and above beyond others. It made the guy insufferable to be around and it is so obvious and unpleasant that it is hard to describe what it did to the work atmosphere. He got a promotion not long ago and is now in another department where at least I no longer have to suffer.

  12. Tomato Frog*

    It might not be possible for the OP to tell what’s merited favoritism and what’s just based on personal liking. There’s a reasonable chance it’s a mix of both, anyway. My boss tends to give more opportunities than many of my coworkers, and sometimes I think it’s merited and sometimes I think it’s just because she’s comfortable asking me to do things and it has little relationship to any skills I’ve demonstrated. I do good work and am gung-ho when the boss asks for help, but ultimately the problem is that on some level it’s a the-rich-get-richer scenario. Because my boss knows she can count on me, other people are less likely to get the opportunity to prove themselves in the first place.

    1. A*

      I’m the LW – just chiming in!

      I think you are spot on with the “rich get richer” thing – boss and I have similar personalities, but I think what it fundamentally comes down to are two distinct, non-personality traits that I exhibit that others don’t, and one thing totally unrelated to me:

      1) I clearly articulate what I want to do and learn, and ask for the projects I want.
      2) I then do them well.
      3) My area is his interest area, while others are more peripheral to the work of making our teapots (in his mind).

      So, I like the stuff he likes and have proven myself to be competent, so I’m usually given right of first refusal on the best stuff now.

  13. Ruthie*

    It was interesting to hear this question asked from the perspective of the “favorite.” Our president always plays favorites with the young men in the office of mostly women. I work on a team of two and my new teammate has become the new favorite. I wish that my teammate was more aware of the situation and proactively looked out for others in the office like you do. My situation has made me uncomfortable and frustrated enough that I am searching for a new job. At the end of the day, there may not be much you can do if your manager resists really hearing your observations, but doing your best to highlight good work your colleagues could really mean a lot to them.

  14. OriginalYup*

    I temporarily experienced this once at an organization that had a savior complex. Every new hire who came in the door was seen as the most amazingest special unicorn ever. For about a year. Then, when they realized that you couldn’t magically fix all their entrenched problems, you got mentally re-assigned to the general worker bee category. So from that perspective, I strongly agree with Alison that it’s worth figuring out the source of the favoritism as a way to inform your reaction.

    If your boss thinks your awesome because you do outstanding work and are just a joy to manage, then you can:
    (a) Offer constructive suggestions to your colleagues if asked about how to deliver work in a way that the boss appreciates or how to work well with the boss generally (send weekly email updates , don’t pop in unannounced, etc);
    (b) Explain to your boss how you’re being perceived, with the takeaway message that the boss should be working with low performers to address their own specific work, not with negative comparisons to you; and
    (c) Being an advocate for your colleagues who do great work too but maybe just don’t click as well with the boss for whatever reason. “Actually, Boss, do you mind if I work with Susan on Fancy New Project? She’s amazing with Excel and I’d love to have her on this.”

    If the favoritism is just random and not performance related, you’re basically doing damage control by:
    (a) Continuing to do excellent work, but making an extra effort to publicly and privately share credit for great work, so you’re not seen as hogging the glory;
    (b) Being seen as level headed and having a sense of humor about it by your coworkers. If they’re half-jokingly mocking you about being the golden child, you can say things like, “I’m just super grateful to have a boss who doesn’t scream at me every day, like my crazy boss at Old Job!”
    (c) Being ready for the tide to turn if you fall out of favor for reasons that are as random as you’re currently being the favorite. If you treat it like a temporary thing that could go away at any time, it will help you to not get sucked into destructive politics or favor currying (in which people suck up to you because you’re perceived as having the boss’s ear).

  15. Anna No Mouse*

    I was the favorite of my old manager for a number of reasons. Most of the people he managed were much older than him, while he and I were within five years of each other. We had common interests and a similar outlook on things, both personal and professional. Due to such a similar mindset, I was better able to produce pretty much exactly what he wanted, and always in a timely way. It just came with being on the same wavelength, and I don’t think it had anything much to do with me being somehow so much better at my job than others were at theirs.

    But it did breed resentment among some of the people I worked with, and occasionally I’d see eyes roll when I walked into boss’ office to discuss a project. It probably would have been worse if we hadn’t been in a government office and he had actually had any power to give me a raise or promotion, because he most certainly would have.

    My situation was different than OPs I guess, because I didn’t have to work directly with the eye-rollers on any projects, so I just came in, did my work, and enjoyed having a great relationship with my manager, which I’m happy to say is a friendship that continues even a year after I stopped working there.

  16. Other Perspective*

    Are you certain that your favoritism is warranted? Having said that, are you willing to ask you co-workers about the favoritism? Your co-workers have thoughts. I’m not sure sending them to talk to your boss is the only answer.

    Also,based on your letter they’ve already started reacting: “…it’s becoming harder to get work done as people grow more and more disengaged. We could be much more productive than we are.” Your group could be more productive, but what’s the benefit to them? Nothing that I can see.

    I will probably be rebuked for saying this, but very few people work for others to benefit, they work for themselves to benefit. If the only person reaping the benefits of anything is you, there’s no reason for them to work harder.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      Your last paragraph…..never have truer words been spoken. If it continues and the co-workers are in a position to leave, I foresee that happening eventually, and the work will continue to be heaped upon OP to the point where they potentially can no longer be a “high performer” because their workload is unmanageable. It’s a vicious cycle.

  17. Clix*

    I’ve usually been a favorite too; even now I have flexibility and atonomy because of my work – I’m trusted. However, I have a junior colleague who is highly favored – while I know his reputation for work quality is low, quantity is as expected, and I’m often called in to help because I’m mentoring this person in the field (they are new, and I have 12years experience). They don’t provide feedback to this employee to avoid hurt feelings, and it becomes a big deal if I have differing professional opinions on some teapot designs.

    It’s frustrating because I’m stunted at work and stuck helping a personal friend of a higher level boss learn the ropes while I’m asked by my direct manager to secretly redo work (I’m HIS favorite and he trusts what I do) and can’t give feedback and don’t recieve the same opportunities. Sadly, my boss knows this and has told me my coworker is the senior manager’s favorite and the senior manager has said such, while acknowledging there are things about the work he doesn’t like but never tells this person.

    It’s bloody awful. He has time problems, that our manager and senior manager are frustrated with… Ugh.

    Favoriting sucks from the other side. I have been resented before but I’m also typically the only person in my department or team or even the company who does what I do. So sharing my role with a mentee who makes nearly as much as I do (with no degree or experience but for the good grace of connections). I feel my career stunted, and hate being associated with crummy work.

    So, for the OP – if you do want to offer your coworkers for projects I say go for it. But also, if it is because you are performing better and if you like what you do… Don’t stunt yourself. Maybe you could ask about taking a coworker under your wing to show them some of your skills or methods – your boss may really like that. It’s hard being the backbone of a department sometimes, very pressuring.

      1. Sea Otter*

        Yes, this is the situation in my department. The worst performer is the favorite. We have already lost one high performer, who did cite during her exit interview that the lower performer was an issue for staff morale. However, she has been gone for two months and the low performer just keeps on doing her low-performing thing with all the entitlement in the world and our supervisor keeps excusing it, while the rest of the department stews over it. There is a lot of resentmet, everyone else is high performing, but to see a lower performer be the golden child is sickening, we are all disgusted and while I like my supervisor, this issue has made me lose some respect for her poor management in this situation.

  18. Lily in NYC*

    My dept has 9 people and they are all stellar employees -the “superstar overachieving” types. The former head of the dept. was incredibly gifted at hiring the “right” people to create a group with different strengths who worked well together. The new dept. head is very different – she tends to prefer the two women who are like clones of herself (tall, blonde, very dominant and aggressive). They get the best projects and she is friendly with them while being pretty cold and curt to everyone else. She is absolutely oblivious to it. She truly has no clue that she favors these two and I think she would be mortified if she realized how the rest of the team feels about it. As her assistant, part of me wants to tell her but I don’t have that type of relationship with her – I’m just not comfortable having an honest conversation about it. Which stinks. I like her fine but I really miss her predecessor.

    1. Rat Racer*

      I posted something similar above, because I had a parallel experience when I was working for VP who singled out one of her directors and totally ignored the rest of her leadership team. I was her chief of staff, so in some ways out of the fray, but a silent observer of the angst and frustration she evoked in the team. I never said anything.

      Unlike your manager, mine would not have been mortified; she would have bitten my head off and tacked it up on the wall as an example to the rest of the department: “this is what happens when you don’t toe the line.” But even if she had been playing favorites sub-consciously, and was the kind of person who was open to feedback, it’s still not an easy conversation to have. It’s kind of like telling someone they have lettuce in their teeth — actually, probably closer to telling someone that their favorite turn of phrase is actually misogynistic/racist/homophobic. Would serve them well to know, but I’m personally reluctant to be the messenger.

  19. Melissa J*

    I’ve actually had experience where I was clearly not one of the favorites of one of the managers at previous retail job. There was one night when I was in the fitting room with lots of customers (a bit rare for that time of the night), the clothes to be put back (“running”) was overflowing, I was working with the different customers in order to ensure they had proper fit and then the other 3 employees (including the manager) that night were all just hanging out in the one of the least shopped in sections just chatting away. I finally had to announce that I actually needed help and they seemed shocked that there were people in the store even.

    Another situation that actually really got to me was after I became a specialist and had been having some problems with one of the very reliable, fast workers. She would give me such attitude, even something as simple as saying good morning usually merited an eye roll. I brought this up to him (he was the equivalent of an HR type) and he just waved it off. Unfortunately, even after he left, no one really did anything about her attitude. The thing that gets me is that we actually had a good relationship when she first started, which was only a few months after me. She even brought me home a few times and we had pleasant conversations. Then our schedules flipped for awhile and then I got the specialist position and all I got was attitude.

    I agree with what’s been said up thread because it’s incredibly demoralizing when you can clearly see favorites and you’re not one, especially if you do good work.

  20. LQ*

    I can’t tell if our boss has favorites or if he just spends more time with those employees because they are problem employees. (Difference of “favorites” or “unproductive employees” get 25-30 hours of dedicated time a week (there are 3 of them) and I’ve gotten…about 1 hour in the last quarter. Time is the only bonus they get, but it is the only bonus our boss could give.

  21. voyager1*

    I was the favorite in my last job. In current job I am not. I am actually okay with that. The clear favorite puts out work better then mine.

    I personally don’t think the LW owes anything to her coworkers when it comes to an explanation.

    Most people become favorites because their work quality is very good. Having an agreeable personality helps too. I am sad to see the LW feels she has done something wrong here.

    1. MK*

      I am glad that your experience with employers is that they reward merit, but the statement that most people become havorites based on merit is highly debatable. I think personality is the primary factor, then the manager convinces themselves that the one they like is also the best, then it turns into a self-fullfilling prophesy, as the favourite performs well because they receive encouragement and opportunities.

  22. voyager1*


    Personality came come into play. If one isn’t easy to get along with or tends to be a little hot headed or easily excitable that can have negative effects. Knowing what your manager or who you report to wants and getting it to him/her is the best way to catch their eye. If you can do that without being asked, that is even better.

    But sometimes you are not always going to click with someone. Sometimes that means being outgoing sometimes not. Sometimes someone is just better then you.

    I feel the whole boss doesn’t like is like the teacher doesn’t like me excuse children make. Your boss has a job for you, do it to the best of your ability. You can control that.

    1. MK*

      It’s not an excuse if it’s true, though. The problem is that, when you don’t like someone, you might not willing to make any allowances for them or give them full credit: you treat their accomplishments as just doing their job and their mistakes as unacceptable. This can happen with bosses and teachers and the results are dismal.

      A boss (and even more a teacher) is bound to have employees\students they like more than others, but being liked by the boss is not an accomplishment in itself. And their own job is to get the best work out of everyone, not just their favourites; part of that is distancing themselves from their personal, emotional response to people and judge the work as objectively and fairly as possible. The main problem comes when the boss manages to convince themselves that person A is doing a better job than person B, when the reality is that their work is of the same quality.

    2. A Definite Beta Guy*

      Your boss has a job for you, do it to the best of your ability. You can control that.

      I suppose I can stay until 1 AM like the last person with my job responsibilities, but she had fewer than mine, so I might have to stretch it till 3 AM or so.

      The favorite, meanwhile, loudly proclaimed that she would never work overtime at a staff meeting (she is salary).

      I assure you, my morale is sky high!

  23. snuck*

    Two thoughts.

    I would want to understand in a ROCK SOLID way why the boss is favouring you. If there’s any chance it’s not because of specific skills that you are awesome at then I’d want to handle this differently. The assumption that the favourtism is based on your skill set being superior is probably flawed – not because you aren’t awesome! – but because this level of favourtism attached purely to your skill set suggests that you would be amazing compared to your peers in all ways – which doesn’t come across in your letter.

    Instead I’d assume there’s another reason for the favourtism (as well as you being a good quality employee), the reason it’s upped a couple of notches higher than (by your letter, where you believe) it should be. And I’d look at that, and try to work out how to reduce the impact of it. If it’s because you are a different race/religion/age/whatever than others then you might consider heading it straight on. If it’s because you are friendlier to him, more approachable then take a look at whether your approachability is professional, and if it is then suggest to others different ways to approach him that suit his style more – next time they complain about not getting enough face time say “Oh, I know it’s hard, I found I wasn’t getting what I wanted so I set up a 15 minute appointment with him twice a week first thing in the morning before things get busy, and I keep it super short and sweet in there – it’s worked for me, maybe you could try the same?” or whatever.

    And totally bring others on board, bring them also into meetings about projects, assume they will share any rewards including all praise, be scrupulous about that.

    1. snuck*

      Whoops was interrupted (by kids!)

      The second thought is – if this is because you are amazing, then politely, firmly pointing it out ONE time in a way that isn’t about the other person’s abilities might be in order. If you are stand out awesome then saying “Fergus gave me the afternoon off as a freebie because I worked very late last night and delivered something that was a mega customer rush order.” Be open about why you are getting something, not all the time, but selectively, so that others can see you are earning these rewards, and that they too can. And if they want to work into the night on the rush orders they can – they can ask their boss for the opportunity. If the boss doesn’t want to because the quality might not be there (or any reasonable other reason) then he might explain that to them. That’s managing.

  24. Kit*

    I was thinking about writing in about the same/a similar problem. I’m moving quite quickly through the ranks at my workplace and I’m so happy about it, but two of my coworkers are quite bitter about my latest promotion and it’s affecting their work. One coworker (Mitch) got a similar promotion right around when I started 9 months ago but was demoted for performance issues in November, and the other (Mark) was hired a month before me so he feels like it’s unfair that I get these opportunities since I’m “newer”.

    Both have been really resistant to having their responsibilities change to accommodate my training/new position, and the issues that have prevented them from moving up the way I have (they work slowly, miss the details that get your work noticed, and are conspicuously chatty) have actually gotten worse!

    I spoke to my managers about Mark in particular yesterday, and they just told me to give him time to adjust. The immediate problem, though, is that I’m supposed to be doing my old job for the first 5 hours of my day and learning the new one for the latter 4 hours. Before, those 4 hours would be spent working with Mark or working alone while he helped with small tasks in the other part of our department, but now he’s expected to work alone and get everything done that I or we would have accomplished in those 4 hours. If those things don’t get done they have to be done the next day, and the more I have to do in my 5 hours the more Mark will have to do in his 4. But he’s upset about “having to do [my] work”! He doesn’t realize that if he got that work done efficiently the way I used to, he’d be getting the same opportunities I do!

    I have to walk on eggshells around these guys and it’s making me feel bad for being good at my job. I didn’t get promoted AT them!

    1. voyager1*


      Sorry you are going through that, some folks think seniority entitles them to promotions. Sounds like you are trying to keep your spirits up.

  25. Z*

    I would like to disagree regarding this part of your advice:

    Since he apparently doesn’t believe there’s a morale problem, don’t focus on that element; instead, focus on the fact that it’s causing problems for you in your relationships with others and putting you in a position where you’re surrounded by resentful colleagues.

    I think that it is likely, considering the dynamics the letter writer has described, that this will cause the boss to think “Coworkers are of lower quality and they also have an attitude problem“. This may well make the situation worse.

    In my experience, the boss doing behaviour that causes their subordinates to be disgruntled will then blame this on the disgruntled people having a “bad attitude” rather than examining what is causing them to be like that in the first place.

  26. A*

    Hi everyone!

    I’m the LW, and wanted to add a bit more info (and thank you, Alison, for the advice!). I had hoped to write in before now, but some things impacting this situation occurred late last week, and I wanted to see how things played out before commenting.

    First thing: I found out a bit more about why my particularly grumpy coworker was grumpy with me – she actually stopped by to apologize and explain what had happened. I’m in a leadership team meeting (which she is not in), and in that meeting my boss’s boss had requested suggestions for someone who could take over some administrative support for a new project. Someone suggested “Caitlyn,” but my boss said that she wasn’t as good as she thought she was. In that particular setting, he should have been safe to say something like that (he didn’t say it meanly – he was just making sure his boss didn’t assign someone something out of their league), but another coworker told her what he said without context, and the gossip was eating at Caitlyn. I’m not sure it would help at all to tell my boss this happened (although feel free to disagree with this – I would love advice about how to handle all this mess!), but I have tried to allude to him that some members of that meeting might not be using the level of discretion they should be, and using more sensitive phrasing going forward might be a good idea.

    Second thing: I had honestly forgotten about this, but several months ago our office had taken a third party workplace satisfaction survey to try and figure out (with the data to back it up) what’s actually happening for us. The results were…not good. Because the results were so poor, our boss’s boss held a joint meeting where people could give him feedback without fear of repercussion (which I honestly believe – he’s a really good boss, and has always made it a point to foster a culture where it’s ok to tell him the truth, even if it’s not something he wants to hear). Some of the favoritism stuff came up in the meeting, so I’m curious to see what the fall-out is. The morale issue isn’t the only problem we have, so it wasn’t a let’s bash my boss meeting or anything, but it did help some of the most unhappy members of the team feel like their complaints were being heard.

    Third thing: Some of the favoritism is definitely personality and some of it is talent, so it’s a bit hard to pull that apart. My boss and I have very similar senses of humor, so we get along on a personal level better than some other coworkers. That said, I had been doing some of what Alison has suggested already, but have tried to take the rest of the advice and implement it. I actually just asked the most upset coworker (Caitlyn in the earlier paragraph) if she’d be interested in helping my team with a few projects that I know she finds interesting, and offered to ask the boss if she can help us with that as part of her current duties. She was really appreciative of that, and my boss was open to the suggestion, too. Some of what I’ve learned from this particular situation is that half of the struggle she (and others) are having is that they aren’t good at articulating what they want for our mutual boss. When something I really want to do comes up, I just ask him if I can work on that. From advocating for Caitlyn, I discovered that she’s much more vague about telling him what she wants – she expects him to be kind of psychic, and he’s not good at that (nor, honestly, should he have to be). Generally, across the team, there’s a lot of saying “I don’t want to do X,” but not a lot of “I really want to do Y; could I transfer some of my X duties to a colleague with the bandwidth so that I have time to do more Y?”

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