Nepotism at work (UK)

  • Employee Conduct
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

You may have heard complaints about favouritism at work in the business world, when one employee receives preferential treatment over the rest. And the reality is nepotism in the workplace can have many negative consequences. If you think your business is a victim of it, or you’d like to stamp it out, then read on to find out actionable ideas and tips.

What is nepotism?

It’s where someone in the position of power in a business uses their position to favour relatives or friends. Nepotism usually occurs in the form of new jobs or promotions where, instead of using the proper business procedure, someone claims the position due to bias. Imagine a scenario where a manager recruits a member of their family into a role. This might be a cousin, daughter, nephew, or brother. They’ll claim the job even though they’re not the best person for the role. Or they don’t have enough experience. Essentially, it’s friend and family favouritism in the workplace.

Why does it happen?

Causes of nepotism are usually due to someone high up in a business with a close personal band with a manager or director making a decision. It takes place rather than management making an unbiased decision brought about on merit or factors such as:

  • Years’ experience in similar roles.
  • Educational or work-based qualifications.
  • Meeting the company culture expectations.
  • The right personality traits.

Other examples of nepotism at work may be a manager giving a promoted position to their golfing partner or best friend from university. It may sound a bit far-fetched, but it’s quite a regular occurrence that many businesses will try to hide from other employees. Especially those who may be more deserving of a role.

Is nepotism illegal?

No, not under existing employment law legislation. But there may be implications if discrimination occurs in a decision. So, while nepotism at work legally is fine as long as it’s not a clear case of discriminating against other employees, what about other HR considerations? For example, is nepotism unethical? Yes, to most extents. This is because you’re passing over existing employees as they’re not their manager’s family member or personal friend. Essentially, it doesn’t matter how hard they work or how good they are at the job. There’ll always be preferential treatment in the workplace towards certain employees.

Developing an anti-nepotism business plan

This a good stance to maintain, otherwise there can be serious consequences. Not only is an unsuitable or less experienced individual taking a key job or vacancy, it can have a significant impact on the rest of your workforce. For example, you’ll potentially upset or anger any employees who apply but are then passed over in favour of friends or family. And that’s especially going to be the case if there were previous promises that an employee was suitable for a promotion. You could see an increasing number of staff leave because they are unhappy with unethical internal recruitment and promotion practices.

Dealing with nepotism in the workplace

You may think this is as easy as having an anti-nepotism policy in place. But it’s important to remember that a manager’s friend or family member can still be a good hire for your business. Instead, train and remind managers on how to make decisions based on objective factors. That’ll help prevent the issue. You can also ask recruitment managers to step aside if they have a close personal relationship with a potential candidate. Your decision maker is then objective and unbiased. If staff are asking about how to report nepotism in the workplace, remind them of your internal grievance policy. If an employee raises a complaint, you should investigate it properly to make sure nothing unethical is going on in your business.

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