Nepotism in the Workplace

Nepotism in the workplace can have a damaging effect on staff morale. It can creep in very easily, particularly in smaller businesses which may not have many policies in place to prevent it. Our guide to nepotism at work looks at how favouritsm can creep in, and how it can affect a team.

What is Nepotism in the Workplace?

Nepotism in the workplace means favouring friends or relatives at work in employment or economic terms as opposed to them being judged on ability or merit.

This could include employing family members, giving them a position over somebody else who may be more suitable. Paying a someone more money than somebody doing the same job, or granting them special favours.

Although nepotism, in its strictest sense of the word, refers to relatives, its interpretation these days can also tend to incorporate friends or just favouritism in general.

Why Does Nepotism Happen?

Smaller, family-run businesses are the most common place where you’d see nepotism at work. Family run businesses have a tradition of being passed down from generation to generation.

Their success and continuity rely a lot on the emotional ties which bonds a family together. You will often see a business owner employing a spouse as well as other family members.

If the company also employs staff outside of the family, it’s important to maintain a strict working relationship. The family members should treated equally to the rest of the staff. Particularly if they hold a similar position to them. By paying attention to this, peace and harmony in the workplace can be maintained.

Is Nepotism Illegal?

Nepotism is not illegal under UK employment law. However, if nepotism is allowed to run unchecked in a workplace, there is a risk of breaching employment laws.

Whilst nepotism on it’s own would not be something a tribunal could take action against, discrimination at work arising from nepotism could cause problems. When making decisions about promotions or new hires that involve friends and family, careful thought should be given.

If a workplace doesn’t have a policy to ensure fair and transparent procedures, it may leave a path open to an employment tribunal claim.

Balancing Risk of Nepotism at Work when Hiring Family

There are several benefits and also disadvantages of hiring a close relative. On the plus side, it can create stability and continuity for a company.

The relative is likely to be more honest and trustworthy and willing to go the extra mile in their job to prove that they’re capable of undertaking the job on merit. They’ll demonstrate loyalty and commitment and be willing to make sacrifices for the business.

On the downside, they may lack the experience to do the job. They may bring family conflicts into work with them which can ruin communication at work. They might be unable to leave work behind and to separate work and home life.

In extreme cases, they may use their position to carry out unethical acts. They might also take advantage of their position to serve their own interests and to the detriment of the company. Husband and wife teams, in particular, can often find the most difficulty in working together.

Harmful Effects of Nepotism

If nepotism is allowed to set in within a business it can have several negative effects. Some will affect morale and productivity, but others might leave the business open to legal action. This can include:-

  • Unfair hiring practises – all staff should be hired on merit, rather than their connections.
  • Discrimination in the workplace – personal grudges and opinions can lead to some staff members being unfairly discriminated against.
  • Breaches of Employment Law – regardless of personal relationships, employment law must be followed. Failure to do this might lead to an expensive case at the employment tribunal.
  • Workplace Grievances – by allowing unfair behaviour to run unchecked, you put the business at risk of formal grievances being raised against your staff.
  • Office Politics – staff morale and productivity can be badly affected if existing relationships are allowed to create a negative atmosphere.

Good Practice

Most of us are familiar with the concept of getting a job through ‘who we know’ in addition to ‘what we know’. Personal contacts are a perfectly legitimate way of trying to open doors.

After all, that is what social networking is all about. Many of us have already used our relationships with others to open doors for us or will do so at some time or another.

It’s a competitive world out there and we’re all looking for something or somebody to give us the ‘edge’ when we’re seeking to get on and progress in our careers. And, whether it’s family or friends that give you an ‘in’ to a particular job, it’s become accepted throughout business that this is fine as long as you’re able to work within the confines of a merit-based system when it comes to rising through the ranks.

It’s important not to seek to receive any preferential treatment. And, whilst problems are rare for the most part, remember that there will always be the odd disgruntled colleague who’ll not be able to accept that you’re there on merit but as long do your job to the very best of your abilities, do not accept preferential treatment and pitch in like everybody else, accusations of any kind of favouritism would be totally unjustified.

20 thoughts on “Nepotism in the Workplace

  1. Biz says:

    I work for a small taxi firm, the owners brother also works there as a driver, he is about to lose his taxi run and it’s looking like the boss is going to sack me so the brother can do my job, is this legal and is there anything I can do?

  2. #corruptionsucks says:

    I work for a charity in the southwest and nepotism is blatant. The CEO’s son has been head of the music dept for years and at one time was paid in the region of £30.000 (that’s rounding it down) to do 25 hours a week. He would rarely turn up for his shifts and would leave the staff under him to sort and set up for gigs and events and it got to the point where the staff left because they where holding the dept together and doing more work than their supervisor who would just come in and out as he pleased. New staff have since started and although his attendance has improved the same is still the case for leaving his staff to do the work while he sits and watched YouTube all day. There was a vancancy for a clinical physiologist at the trust. The job was advertised on the website for 1 week, 1 person was interviewed for the job and that person was the CEO’s daughter who at the time of interview was still at University so her start date was held off for 6 months until she had graduated so she got the job has clinical physiologist LEAD while still being at university and not even being qualified for the job. The atmosphere at the place is unbearable especially as the CEO is so blatant about it and fiercely defencive of them both.

  3. Darkgold says:

    I work in a large company where nepotism is blatant. It’s all very well trying to help out relatives in getting a job. However all the promotions have gone to white twenty something year olds related to the managers. The company has a large turnover and those who have complained to HR either get fired for the most smallest mistakes or put on a PIP. Just to prove a point the company has one gay man, one trans person and one Asian woman amongst twenty other managers who are white. Although the racism and preference for family members is very blatant, nothing has been done unless someone wants to risk being fired from their job. Those who have worked there for years that don’t fit into the white twenty something category either don’t progress or leave. What puts the icing on the cake is that all their clients are of African and Asian descent. Please advise.

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Darkgold – In general if as an employer you employ family members you must avoid special treatment in terms of pay, promotion and working conditions. If you feel you are being treating unfairly you should raise a formal complaint with your employer. If you feel the company is generally guilty of treating its employees unfairly or guilty of discrimination then it might be worth trying to take further action via a tribunal. Contact ACAS for some individual advice.

  4. Sweetie says:

    I have recently been promoted to a management role at work. However, another person has also fulfilled another vacancy for the same job. She happens to be the managers wife. I was not made aware that I was only temporary until checking emails. The managers wife got the permanent role despite failing Serve Legal which consequently got her a third degree warning. She then left for 5 months and shouldn’t have been reemployed but had been anyway. We started at the same time and I have been a continuous service to the company with no warnings or diciplinaries. What do I do?

    • Safe Workers says:

      @Sweetie – Try making speaking to your employer about this and consider a formal complaint. If you feel you have been treated unfairly in comparison with other employees you may be able to take it further. Check with ACAS

  5. Alandickie says:

    Charity sector rife with nepotism. My office managers daughter job shares with me. I say share but she does 20% of the workload with longer hrs. Every time I bring her incompetence to the managers attention she deflects and takes the blame herself.

  6. ScreenQueen says:

    I work in a busy UK airport. I work for an aircraft cleaning company. Nepotism is rife and I feel it to be wrong. My boss is seeing another member of staff. My boss is female and the member of staff male. She has just employed her boyfriends daughter-in-law as a driver. She(the daughter-in-law) has gained immediate promotion without ANY merit. I.E> Given a supervisory position over those that have been there years. Her boyfriend gets overtime over everyone else. Gets called into work to do the tasks of a tradesman. i.e painting, and paid for doing so. He has access to areas the supervisors do not have. i.e. The store cupboard where essentail work equipment is kept. If he is not on shift we go without the neccessary tools.

  7. James says:

    There is a young man at the security company I work who gets special treatment on account of being in a relationship with the boss’ niece. He regularly causes conflict between other employee’s and even with clients, but he is never held accountable. He also throws his weight around and makes no secret of the fact he’s above the law. I know that one of the supervisors caught him misbehaving on site, and the supervisor got in trouble for flagging it up and was told to leave him alone. If anyone complains they often get accused of bullying or troublemaking. As you can imagine this has ruined morale within the company, many workers have even left in disgust. Worst of all are the workers who pretend to like him, just to get an easier ride.

  8. Cass says:

    I currently work at a place where a close family relative is favored over all of the other wait staff. The relative can call into work for insanely irresponsible reasons such as “I am too drunk” or “I just broke up with my boyfriend” and even if I am not on the schedule to work, I am forced to go in because the boss threatens to punish me by giving me less hours. Is this legal? Can I be bullied into working a shift that I am not scheduled for?

  9. justme says:

    I work for a small business. Out of 34 including the Managing Director only 3 are unconnected. I am one of the 3. When the company was beginning it was a family affair and after that each person has brought others in that they know and they found others and so on. Friends, family, neighbours. 1 person alone has 5 others that they got jobs for and they all know each other too. Its a very difficult workplace if you are not one of the clan. They all have sub groups and cliques aswell. If I say one small thing to one, I get the backlash from many. I feel so insecure and unstable always worried I will be in trouble or pushed out. The other 2 outsiders: 1 has managed to get into the good graces of a senior and the other works in a section that is remote and does not come into contact enough to cause waves though I hear them gossip about her. I know Im one of their better employees, I know from my own productivity/ standards unyet I am invisble. It makes no difference that Im not late/ sick. The others get away with murder. After nearly 3 years I am a little depressed and have changed alot. I have lost alot of confidence working for these people and jobs are thin as is. I am certainly cynical and mistrusting now and if I ever summon the confidence to get to an interview, my priority will be to interview them regarding their staffing policies. Never again will I work for a company like this. Theres alot to be said for big business that has protocols- proper training and monitors its staff correctly.

  10. Me says:

    We run a small business which operates using sub contractors; my partner (50/50 director) has started to plan the monthly workload based on giving his son-in-law some of the other contractors jobs, who have been with us longer and are more experienced. I am unhappy with this situation, but am concerned as to how to stop this practice, I fear that we current use too many of my partners family in our business and I’m concerned that we may end up peeing off our other contractors.

  11. Iqbal43 says:

    I am working for my company for about 3 years now and I really enjoyed, I get promoted, as supervisor , and I was always appreciated for my hard work . 2 months ago a new manager come in organisation and she changed everything. No comunication , she is bulling all the time and she is very, very rude with me and my staff. We falling apart and I am feeling like I am loosing the battle. I see my staff confused and upset everyday, and some they want quit, and some they are to scared to say something. I was doing my job in one day and I went to ask the helpdesk about a delivery that was delay to come, and after I get bullied on phone by my manager that if I go one more time to talk or ask any other manager or head something she sack me out. I was shocked as nowone in my company was talking like this before. Since then I try keep records of everything, and I try to calm my staff. The worse thing is she bring member of family on job to be part of my team , and things go worse everyday. She giving favoure to members of family and to rest of as hard work. She changed the schedules for everyone and is it clear , she want make us leave. I am thinking to inform Hr about what happening, but not to sure if this is the right think . Is anyone can tell me what to do???

  12. Delune says:

    My workplace has recently shut down and All workers including myself have now been made redundant because Of nepotism. The organization hired a women to be a shift coordinator. She then hired new workers who were all her family. Bit by bit she forced long term shift workers to leave, either by making up serious false accusations about them to HR or not giving them shifts on the rosters. When the employees were forced out she hired more of her family. Then the payroll bills started to soar and soarbwith all of her family members making an average of $5000.00 per fortnight each. This apparently being due to them working lots of overtime and not having 10 hour breaks between each shift. The shift coordinator lied to national management that she was unable to contact other workers or they were not available or that they were not showing up for their shifts. None of this was true. National office were unaware she had been employing her own family until it was too late. They shut down our branch because they losses suffered could not be recovered and was too much of a risk to the rest of the organization. Thanks to one greedy person and her family many others are now out of work

  13. Tiggy Ten says:

    I worked in a company for ten years and then the daughter was brought in – she comes and goes whenever she wants and does as much or as little work as she pleases, usually the latter. The boss will come in i can be working away and the daughter is doing her own thing and the boss comes up to me and piles more work on me. We have to wear a uniform but she can wear what ever she wants. Its turned into a horrible place to work. I used to love my job but now i hate it because of her – i dont feel as if i can say anything because she’s the bosses daughter he wouldnt be happy with me if i was calling her to him. Its a no win situation. I have to put up with it or be forced out of my job because of her bad attitude to work.

  14. Roy says:

    I started working for a family business 3 months ago.. I was praised every day for building the business up, putting in a new structure etc etc. then they employed a family member with no experience as they felt sorry for him and I have been told there’s not enough work for both of us and I may have to go. I have no rights? I gave up a good job to go there and I feel completely duped.. Employment Law is not there for me even though I am a good, honest worker.

  15. Suitandties says:

    I currently work at a family run company. The father has employed his son to be a manager and to say he’s incompetent, well that’s putting it nicely. The atmosphere during the work day is horrific. All the staff want to leave and even the other management know how bad a job he’s been doing yet still there has been no reprimand for any wrong doing. After filling in over 200 job applications in the last 3 years of working there, I am completely fed up. We’ve had 16 staff in the last 2 years leave due to his attitude and problems with management. What do you do when the family wont fire the son that’s ruining their business?

  16. Rsol says:

    You also forgot to mention the social implications, cronyism etc. Also you must remember that when friends/relatives get picked for positions (promotion) that the other members of staff may resent being passed over due to simply not being a mate from college. I have experienced this first hand. It does effect productivity VASTLY. Nepotism in small businesses is all very well and good, but in big businesses preaching professionalism, its suicide. No one has any motivation if nothing they do will improve their position.

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