The Boss’s Pet – Making the Workplace not so Equal

Does anybody else compare a workplace environment with the storyline of NBC’s “The Office?” No? Just me? Regardless, ever notice how much Michael Scott hated Toby and loved Dwight? Of the two, who got the cool projects? Who was always the brunt of Michael’s criticism and last on the list for any opportunities?

We’ve all been there – an “equal workplace” that really wasn’t so equal. There’s always the one or two co-workers who get the special projects, that get away with a couple extra sick days, and seem to do no wrong; the boss’s pets. These are the one’s who seem to get preferential treatment from the boss over anybody else. Eventually, of course, as they do more advanced tasks and are first in the mind of the boss, these individuals are also first on the list for a promotion.

Barbara Moses notes in her post “Does your boss play favourites? “A recent survey of 300 executives at large U.S. corporations by Georgetown University researchers found that 92 per cent have seen [favouritism] influence promotions.” Startling isn’t it? Even if it is not the case, the fact that workers feel this way is a sign that management is not communicating clearly with their workers.

A boss may choose their “pet” for various different reasons – these may include past or current friendships, reminders of themselves, possible physical attraction, exchange of gifts/money; each as unethical as the previous. A boss may also do this without realizing. Perhaps they have noticed a strong work ethic, a consistent delivery of results, and an overall satisfaction with performance of a handful of employees. Or maybe, as Ellyn Spragins suggests, the boss is “oblivious to its existence.” In a situation that has too many possible factors, it is important to address it without causing the most damage.

An organization’s training program can help managers be more aware of this. It can include the consequences from a legal perspective, a company culture perspective, or a job performance perspective – basically scare the managers away from deliberate favouritism. Now of course, natural tendencies may kick in a managers might play favourites unknowingly. Strategies like transparencies in decisions, creative ways to distribute special projects, and clear criteria in selection strategy will help the manager avoid unknowingly play favourites. A manager also needs to be careful in drawing the line between friends and colleagues. When you spend so many hours per week at work, you likely make some friends. But friends should be friends outside of work.

Nobody ever said being a manager was easy. On top of delivering team results consistently, intangibles like culture, morale, and employee satisfaction play a huge role in success. Employees strive to be Dwight, and hate to be the Toby of your workplace.  A manager can be trained, however, to fairly find the happy middle – the “Jim.”







Moses, B. (2012, May 10). Does your boss play favourites?. Globe and Mail. Retrieved May 10, 2012, from

Spragins, E. (2003). Taming the Boss’s Pet. FSB: Fortune Small Business, 13(9), 30.