How to Deal with Nepotism at the Workplace

Workplace nepotism means blindly favoring those employees who are related to you or are an important part of your personal life. This Workspirited article will tell how to deal with nepotism at the workplace.
Workspirited Staff
Quick Tip
As an employer, it would be better to draft an anti-nepotism policy to avoid any messy issues associated with such delicate situations.

In a professional environment, it is important that all employees be treated equally. Where there is discrimination (on the basis of gender, religion, nationality, color, etc.), the morale of the employees is affected, leading to reduced productivity. An employee's potential must be taken into consideration in a corporate setting, and moreover, personal and professional lives need to kept apart.

However, nepotism still persists in many workplaces, and while some employees openly rebel against the same, there are some who withdraw and cower in fear. To know how to report nepotism at the workplace, you need to recognize the signs first and understand that you are not being treated the way you deserve to be. The paragraphs below focus on the signs of favoritism at work and dealing with them.

Signs of Nepotism

▲ Promotions, benefits, and appraisals may be given to the favored employee.

▲ You are not being appreciated for a task that you have completed diligently, but your boss's relative is appreciated for even the smallest tasks.

▲ You are constantly being compared to the supervisor's friend/relative, and this is hampering your confidence.

▲ You have not been granted leave even though you have a genuine, important reason, but the boss's favorite employee is granted leave for the most trivial reasons.

▲ You have not been granted a loan despite the papers being in order, but your boss's brother has been granted a huge loan with no mortgage or guarantor.

Ways to Handle Nepotism


For Employees

Contact the HR Department
  • If you feel that you are being sidelined, you need to take this concern to the HR of your company.
  • To begin with, record and document the instances of nepotism that you have faced.
  • You need to be very careful while reporting to the HR. Make sure you do not complain or whine; put forth your point in a logical, unbiased way.
  • Do not accuse anyone directly without fully ascertaining the facts. For all you know, what may seem like nepotism at the outset may have a completely different back story.
  • Make sure the HR does not have any person related to the boss, who is working under him.

Engage in Communication
  • Talk to your colleagues, the junior staff, etc., and find out whether the resentment you experience is also shared by others, or whether you are the only victim.
  • If you are the only one who is experiencing this bias, perhaps you need to introspect.
  • If everyone has similar experiences, you need to have a general discussion (do not gossip) and come to a conclusion to deal with the problem.
  • You may also communicate directly with your superior. It may seem like a rather bold move, but dealing with the problem upfront will be appreciated by your boss.
  • Be respectful. At the end of the day, remember that he is your superior. Talk to him and express your unhappiness in a polite way.
  • Perhaps your boss might realize that his behavior is affecting the morale of the workplace, and he may work on improving the same.

Be Professional
  • Do not lose your sense of professionalism just because you are being sidelined.
  • Continue working diligently and sincerely, maintain decorum in the office. Do not give a chance to anyone to complain against you.
  • Many employees resort to unfair means out of frustration. Avoid doing so; your dignity is more important, do not sink that low.
  • Your professional and sincere attitude may catch the attention of your senior, and he may feel guilty (fat chance) or at least ashamed (high hopes again).
  • Ultimately, chances are that your best behavior may pay off, so try to remain your usual, sincere self. If nothing comes out of it, you may resort to other tactics.

Think Logically
  • Analyze whether this really qualifies as unfair behavior. Put yourself in their shoes, think from their perspective.
  • No no, I am certainly not suggesting that you tolerate the unfairness, but do find out if there is a genuine reason behind the same. Perhaps your boss's nephew has been through a series of failures, is depressed, and your boss is desperately trying to bring him back to normal.
  • Ethically speaking, he has no right to demoralize someone else for his own selfish reasons; however, if there is a genuinely good intent, you might try to talk it over with your boss and arrive at a mutual solution.

Legal Action
  • There are no fixed laws against nepotism, but if things do get out of hand, you need to take legal action.
  • You can file for employee harassment or discrimination, but make sure you have proper evidence. A lawsuit can cost you time and money.
  • In extreme situations, with the accurate evidence and witnesses, you might be able to convict your boss.

For Employers

Develop Professionalism
  • You need to maintain professionalism at work.
  • If you are the one who is practicing nepotism knowingly or unknowingly (forgive my bluntness), reflect on how your behavior is affecting the other employees.
  • Understand that your personal and professional life are different.
  • If the circumstances have been difficult and you have had to hire someone from your family, at least make sure that once the person has got the job, he rises up the ladder without your help.
  • If, as an employer, you find that there is a prevalence of nepotism in the office, draft strict rules that enforce professionalism―that means no favoritism inside the office, no unnecessary promotions, equality and fairness all over, etc.

Draft an Anti-nepotism Policy
  • This is a policy that many employers follow as of today.
  • Anti-nepotism policies state that employers should refrain from hiring people of their own - their family members or acquaintances.
  • It prohibits one relative from supervising another, prohibits married couples from working together, and does not allow close acquaintances to work together either.
  • An anti-nepotism policy enforces strict rules, prevents discrimination, encourages hard work, and avoids conflicts, hiring decisions, etc., and prevents family influence.

Enforce Proper Communication
  • If you feel that your behavior is unfair and you may have exhibited favoritism, talk to your employees and request them to be honest with you. Perhaps, they might feel confident and express their unhappiness, which will help you refine your behavior.
  • If you are at a senior decision making position and you feel that your juniors (who are superiors to the new staff) exhibit nepotism, get to the root of the matter and enforce proper rules.
  • Talk to your subordinates as well as the ground-level employees, and resolve the matter at once.

Be Objective
  • One of the reasons why some employers resort to nepotism is because relatives are more reliable―they may feel indebted and not leave the organization.
  • It may also be convenient in terms of low recruitment expenditure and employee benefits.
  • However, you need to be objective.
  • If the above points work to your advantage, at least talk it over with your family as well as your manager and formulate policies such that other employees remain unaffected.
  • Do not forget that while you may be helping a family member, you may or may not be helping the organization in the long run. Any kind of preferential treatment, good or bad, is detrimental for the organization.

Evaluate and Decide
  • Consider why you need to hire or display favoritism to your relative.
  • There is nothing inherently wrong in helping a family member; however, doing so at the expense of others is definitely wrong.
  • Even if your relative/friend is genuinely deserving and may be an asset to the firm, you have no right to demean someone else. Do not treat your employees like personal chattel.
  • You may also consult the HR department and consider the consequences of hiring a relative/friend. Even before your relative could make an entry, there will be a general feeling of resentment.

Legality and Related Issues

  • The fact of whether there are laws against nepotism in the workplace or if nepotism is illegal is still an ongoing debate.
  • There are a few laws against favoritism at the workplace, there are laws against discrimination too, but there are no stringent laws against nepotism, unless it is coupled with discrimination.
  • There are certain ethics regarding nepotism of course, but not many employers take up the issue seriously.
  • For example, you may have a boss who has an affinity towards a particular faith. If you do not follow the same, he may disregard your suggestions, insult you, etc. This qualifies for discrimination on the basis of religion and is allowed a legal claim.
  • Imagine the same situation again, with a slight change. Instead of demeaning or insulting you, your boss favors his relative, appreciates him incessantly, gives him regular promotions, etc., merely because he follows the same faith as himself. This is nepotism and may not be quite valid for a lawsuit, unless you combine it with religious discrimination.
  • This may or may not be true for all cases. In extreme situations, you can file a lawsuit for harassment, but, it is better to communicate with your superior and deal with the issue in a dignified manner.

Overcoming favoritism at work is not an easy task. Every moment, an employee would feel the anger and resentment that his work is being disrespected. For your own sanity and self-respect, you need to learn how to avoid nepotism in the workplace. On second thoughts, if this kind of behavior occurs very often and is affecting your personal and professional life severely, you need to gear up and take strict action. Everyone is entitled to equality at work.