5 Simple Ways to Handle Nepotism in the Workplace
Dealing with nepotism in the workplace can be tough, especially if you’re receiving the short end of the stick while someone else is gaining opportunities due to what you perceive as unfair favoritism. Nepotism, or the act of providing or receiving opportunities due to a family relationship or friendship, has a history that runs long and worldwide.
“Nepotism is a natural part of the human endowment,” says Robert Jones, a professor of Industrial-Organizational Psychology at Missouri State University. How it's perceived is tied to culture, according to Jones. “In China and India, nepotism is a way of life and regarded positively.”
Nepotism generally has a negative association in western, individualistic countries such as the United States, particularly if the favored recipient isn’t unqualified. Nepotism can cause damage to a business, affecting employee morale, causing friction and resentment.
However, it isn’t necessarily a bad practice, either. Hiring or promoting a relative can provide certain advantages. For instance, if the candidate has been groomed in the family business, then the person may bring valuable social and intellectual capital to the position. Jones points to a recent nepotism study on NCAA teams that shows that teams that have nepotism (two or more family members as players or coaching on the same team) perform better and win more games than those without.
The bottom line is that the way people respond to nepotism at work depends largely on the candidate’s qualifications and self-awareness, transparency in the hiring process and other variables. But if you find yourself in a work situation where nepotism is a flagrant problem that disrupts your health, workplace satisfaction and professional growth, look to these five ways to cope.
Click through the slideshow to see the five ways to handle nepotism at work.
Check your feelings.
Take a deep breath. Just because the person hired or given the opportunity is related to the boss, it doesn’t automatically make the situation nepotism. The fact is, the person receiving the opportunity may have qualifications or experience that speaks to the job or opportunity. So before you jump the gun and scream “nepotism,” take a step back.
“Focus on maintaining a professional attitude and a strong performance," says Heather Huhman, an HR expert and founder and president of HR software firm Come Recommended. "The last thing an employee with a legitimate complaint against their employer wants is to not be taken seriously because of some sort of technicality.”
Be professional -- very professional.
Let’s say it’s definitely nepotism, and that person benefitting is an unqualified, obnoxious monster. Well, just because that person exhibits wildly unprofessional behavior and gets away with it doesn’t mean that you will.
Nepotism is not fair. But it's rampant with the potential to be toxic, according to Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.
You can’t control someone else’s behavior, but you can be responsible for your own. Double down on professionalism, even if you are being provoked or plan on leaving the company.
Resist the following: Acting out, slacking on the job, telling someone off or gossiping with co-workers who could easily repeat your words, which can come back to haunt you later. (Hey, vent to your heart’s content with your spouse, therapist and/or best friend who does not have anything to do with your workplace.)
You should keep doing all the things that professional people do: Be courteous, show up on time, follow through on your responsibilities and keep growing your learning and skills. Do it outside of work if you have to.
Document your great work at the company.
Often in cases of nepotism, what is most frustrating is that a person feels overlooked because of opportunities given to someone perceived as less qualified. So, your best bet to get what you want (say, a raise or promotion) is to not make it about the other person.
Harness data and document what amazing things you have done over time. Show it in numbers if possible (for example, “I am responsible for increasing website traffic by 10 percent over the past three months.") and don’t make your argument about the unfairness of someone else getting what you feel you deserve.
Ask for what you want, back it up with solid points of data and facts and allow for the possibility that you may get what you wish for.
Talk it out with a carefully selected individual in the company.
“Nepotism is dangerous territory -- especially depending on whom the nepotism involves,” says HR expert Huhman. “As such, employees need to proceed with caution and be careful about whom they trust with their complaints.”
With this in mind, if you need to report the person benefiting from nepotism, HR is almost always the wrong choice. Instead, what Huhman recommends is to “identify a third-party ally -- someone higher up than you, and thus has more power within the organization, but has no skin in the game. As with any complaint, documentation and witnesses are important. Together with the ally, determine how to best bring forward your concerns that won't result in backlash.”
Along with having your own record of documentation of dates, incidents, dialogue and names and people who can possibly corroborate what happened, present any additional supporting evidence, such as a policy in the employee handbook to show that these actions are in direct violation of company policy.
And remember, if you choose to speak up, assume that you may be inviting closer examination of your own behavior. Make sure your own performance is beyond scrutiny.
Focus on what you can do for your health and happiness right now.
Dealing with nepotism at work can be stressful, and the matter won’t be resolved overnight. “Patience is crucial,” Huhman says. “Some might feel compelled to act out of emotion, but it’s best to build a case with evidence and details -- including any information from colleagues who may be experiencing the same things you are -- before approaching anyone.”
Whether it’s exercising, cooking, hanging out or talking with supportive friends and family, watching a hilarious show on Netflix or seeing a therapist, find the activities that bring you happiness and relief -- and keep doing them.
And consider this for the bigger picture: Nepotism is everywhere. In some instances, it can hinder you professionally and be toxic. But that’s not every case. “Know that people may not realize they’re acting partially,” shares Huhman. “So it’s best to approach any conversation about partial behavior at work as something you’ve noticed, not something that’s been done to you.”