Everyone wants to be Mom’s favorite.  It’s nice to be special.  One of the most common complaints I hear is that a Supervisor or Manager plays favorites.

It’s harmful for both the employee and the manager. Any progress or reward the employee receives is thought to be due to being a “friend of the boss”. The supervisor or manager gets a reputation for playing favorites and it can be divisive in the department.

So how does this happen and how do you avoid it?

It’s a particular problem if you were promoted into your position over your peers and now you are supervising them. You may have formed friendships with these people and now you are the boss. If you pull away from these friends, they will think you are full of yourself. Sitting down with these individuals and having a frank discussion will help. You may have a couple people want to transfer out and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Let’s face it, we do like some people more than others. We tend to like people who think like us, and as a supervisor, we like the high performers. Be careful about spending too much personal time with the people you like while ignoring the ones who are in the “not so much” group. Spending more time coaching the average performer can help that person move into the high performance area.

I know you don’t want to hear this but it’s not a good idea to spend personal time outside of work with employees you supervise. The one exception to this would be group activities. You may give an open invitation for a beer after work but you may have an employee who has to be home right after work and then they feel like the outsider because they can’t spend that personal time chatting up the boss. I am all for having breakfast or lunch, giving employees important one-on-one time but make sure you are giving equal time to everyone. Be careful about giving special fun projects to the same employees; try to spread around the fun. Not being a friend to your employees makes it a little easier if you have to discipline or counsel them at some point.

Seeking status with the boss is a learned behavior. We’ve grown up wanting special attention from our parents and many continue that in the workplace. Employees who feel “special” can take advantage of you and feel they can push the boundaries. You’re not their mother, you’re the boss. Supervising is difficult enough without putting yourself in that situation.