HR & Employment · 7 May 2021

How to handle nepotism in the workplace

How to handle nepotism in the workplace

Nepotism is a nasty environment and a tough one to deal with. Having an executive abusing their power in any form leaves a bad taste in employees’ mouths. Unfairly favouring the hire or treatment of employees who are relations (or are an important part of the employer’s personal life) will quickly lead to trouble in the workplace.

We aim to help you learn how to deal with nepotism at the workplace through this article.

For starters, it would be prudent as an employer to draw up an anti-nepotism policy, especially if you are not the person hiring. It is important that you or your executives treat all employees equally.

In addition to discrimination by nepotism, you should be sure that your company is not unwittingly discriminating generally. Discrimination means making a biased decision based on a person’s:

  • Lack of familial or relationship links to you
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Skin colour
  • Sexual orientation
  • Disability
  • “Position” in society
  • Financial status
  • Age
  • Culture
  • Marriage status
  • Status as a parent
  • Reprisal/retaliation (someone who has laid a complaint)
Discrimination can affect the morale of the employees affected and their teammates which will directly affect productivity. An employee’s potential must be evaluated separately from their personal lives.

Unfortunately, nepotism is found in all industries, including civil servants. A few employees will push back against it, but the majority fear for their job security and remain quiet.

How do you deal with nepotism at work?

If you want to report nepotism at the workplace, it is important that you know how to talk about it in order to present your case. The first step would be recognising the signs of it.

Here is a list of signs to identify:

  • Unfair awarding of promotions, benefits, and appraisals.
  • Lack of recognition for diligently executed tasks versus a boss’s relative/friend (the favourite) receiving overwhelming recognition for insignificant task completions.
  • Unfair comparison to “the favourite”.
  • Leave not granted when needed for genuine, important reasons, but “the favourite” is granted leave for the most trivial reasons.
  • A loan was not granted despite the submission being in order, whereas “the favourite” has been awarded a huge loan with meeting all requirements.

How do you fight nepotism?

As an employee, the ways that you could handle reaching a resolution is:

Contact the HR department

Facts are important, so start recording and documenting the instances of nepotism you observe.

When that is compiled, report to HR but ensure you do not become emotional or whine. Present your case logically and without bias.

Do not make accusations without irrefutable facts. There have been cases of presumed nepotism which were unfounded when the back story was revealed.

Make sure the HR representative does not have a subordinate related to the boss.

Obtain additional points of view

Ascertain whether others share your experience, or whether you are the only one with this view. If you are the only one, it would be prudent to review your position.

If there are a number of colleagues agreeing with you, discuss (not gossip) a joint approach to the problem.

Be professional

Maintain the higher ground and your professionalism. Continue applying yourself to work diligently and behave professionally at all times in the office. Avoid outbursts of frustration.

Your professional and sincere attitude will support your case against discrimination.

Maintain a logical approach

Be certain that the behaviour is logically unfair. Ascertain if there are justifiable reasons behind the behaviour. Perhaps the loan was part of a pre-agreed contract arrangement. Perhaps your boss’s relative is suffering from depression or massive loss, and your boss is desperately trying to help them through this dark period.

Of course, demoralising someone else, albeit unwittingly, is not good; however, if the intent was good, but the execution is causing the problem, you might have success talking it through with your boss and resolving it.

Legal action

There are no nepotism-focused laws, but if needed, take legal action in the form of employee harassment or discrimination. Lawsuits cost time and money, so have a watertight case.

As an employer, the ways that you could handle reaching a resolution is:

Become more professional

If you are the source of the nepotism, knowingly or unknowingly, make an effort to comprehend the impact of your behaviour on business success. Learn to separate your personal and professional lives. If you have hired a relative, ensure the person works as expected and is only rewarded in line with their efforts and relative to the rest of the team.

If the source of the nepotism is one of your executives, draft strict rules immediately that enforce professionalism.

Drafting an anti-nepotism policy

Anti-nepotism policies restrict the hiring of family members or acquaintances; they direct reporting between relatives. They prohibit married couples from having direct reports and have restrictions relating to close acquaintances working together.

Be objective

Employers often state that they resorted to nepotism because their relatives were extremely reliable and are infinitely more loyal. A recruitment company doesn’t have to be paid, and employee benefits are usually less.

If these points are valid, talk it over with your manager (if you are not the top executive) and formulate clear policies so that other employees remain unaffected.

Be careful not to engage in overtly preferential treatment or the business will suffer which defeats your original goal.

Legality and related issues

It is difficult for specific nepotism laws to be drawn up as there are an infinite amount of scenarios. The debate has no doubt been doing the rounds for hundreds of years.

The laws that could be used against favouritism at the workplace related to discrimination but, in the business world, there are no niche laws against nepotism.

Nepotism can be addressed via laws pertaining to ethics, but, to be frank, few employers take the issue seriously.

If your boss has chosen a specific faith in their life and they are deeply involved in the community linked to that faith, he may trust the opinion of those following that same faith versus your opinion if you are of another faith. They might promote those of that faith sooner than those not of that faith.

This qualifies for discrimination on the basis of religion and is allowed a legal claim.

What if the situation is that of your boss favouring his/her relative, showering them with compliments incessantly and handing out promotions and rewards at a great speed because they share the same deep love of their religion. This is nepotism but, due to law, will battle in court. Combine it with religious discrimination, and you have a far greater chance at success.

Overcoming favouritism at work is not easy. If this kind of behaviour occurs very often and affects your quality of life at work and home, take strict action – you are entitled to equality at work.

It might, unfortunately, be unresolvable, which would mean you would want to start looking for work elsewhere. Make sure you have tried everything you can to resolve it before moving on, especially if you love the brand and the industry you work in. Tough (polite) talks often result in stronger business relationships.

Remain professional, keep your head up and know your worth!

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