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.
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.