Should I Keep Quiet About Favoritism?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about nepotism: Although Ann and Barb supposedly separated after the domestic violence incident, Ann shortly after hired Barb

This story may seem bizarre, but it’s true. I’m using a made-up names to make it a bit easier to follow. My supervisor, Ann, is a lesbian, and is “out” at work. That in its self is not a problem for me. I admire her for it and wish all gay people could be out at work. At any rate, a few months ago, Ann accused her live-in lover, Barb, of domestic violence and Barb was sentenced to anger management classes by the court.

Meanwhile, one of the women in our work group resigned. Ann moved Carrie, another woman in the group, into that position (not posted internally or externally). Although Ann and Barb supposedly separated after the domestic violence incident, Ann shortly after hired Barb to fill Carrie’s vacated position (although with some changes in the content of the duties) – again not posted.A couple of months later, another woman in our group, Diane, resigned. In the meantime, Barb had moved back in with Ann. Diane’s job was not posted, but instead Ann moved Barb into the position, which pays considerably more than the position Ann held previously.

The position Barb is vacating HAS been posted. I was not personally interested in applying for any of the vacated jobs that weren’t posted, but I have heard that some others in the company at large ARE interested in transferring to our dept.As far as I know, H.R. is aware of everything that’s gone on. This, by the way, is a huge multi-national corporation. The office staff is probably 100 people in our facility. I’m not interested in bringing this up to H.R, as it seems obvious they have no problem with the way things have been done, or of having two women in an intimate relationship be in a supervisor/subordinate relationship.

I doubt there’s anything in company literature to prevent it, even if the company has a policy about not allowing spouses in supervisor/subordinate relationships in the same dept. It wouldn’t apply to people in same gender relationships who couldn’t marry even if they wanted to, in our state anyway. I also assume it’s at a company’s discretion if they enforce their own policies.

I just want to know how to cope emotionally with the feelings I have about this as just being unfair to others who might’ve wanted an opportunity for these jobs. It didn’t set well with me either that I didn’t miss a day during my first 90 days probation, whereas Barb has missed several during hers. I really don’t think Ann has the slightest clue that anyone could possibly feel anything negative about this situation. There has been rampant nepotism (an area with some similarities to this one) in many of the companies I’ve worked for over the last 35 years, so I guess I’m used to feeling like I have to work harder to keep my position “secure” than others might. I just try to remember the “world’s not fair” and put blinders on, but I’d like to be able to add some additional coping tips if you have some to offer.

Signed, Not Fair

Dear Not Fair:

If I had really great ideas for coping with such blatantly inappropriate behavior as you describe, I’d write a book and make a mint! You describe what sounds like unfair hiring and retention and poor decision-making by your boss. I know you say that your primary concern is coping with the situation rather than doing anything else about it. But truly, it is not right! I don’t know of a reputable company that would approve of a manager hiring, and then working directly with, someone with whom they are having a relationship–particularly a relationship that has had difficulties resulting in legal intervention. But let’s take it outside a sexual relationship and extend it to a brother-sister, parent-child, sibling-sibling–I don’t believe the higher echelon in a multi-national company would want that to be happening. You say you don’t wish to pursue the many issues this situation presents, and that is your decision. But consider that already work has been affected. You are concerned and distracted by it and I’m sure others are as well. You know for a fact that there were employees who didn’t get a chance to apply for a job they might have wanted. Who knows what impact this has had on their feelings–but they have managed to submerge them. What’s next?You say you admire this person, and I honor you for your efforts to be upbeat. But the fact this has occurred certainly indicates that your manager is sadly lacking in judgment! It also indicates she isn’t very concerned about morale. Nor does she care about rewarding those who have worked for the company faithfully.

Instead she simply puts in the person she wants. Then, she doesn’t make that person obey the same rules as others. How admirable is THAT? It may be that your boss is very nice and deeply regrets some of her actions. I’m not saying she isn’t a nice person. I’m just saying that she is acting in a way that is contrary to the principles of good management. Whether you report this to HR or higher up the chain, is a decision you and others will have to make. There are merits to doing so and not doing so. At the very least, Barb needs to be moved to another section, not supervised or managed by her partner. Those who have been damaged or potentially kept from a better job should complain if they feel strongly about it–and I would think they do! You say she likely doesn’t realize how negatively people view it. Do you know her well enough to tell her?If you have evidence of all you say, consider whether or not you want to work with such an irresponsible manager. Then consider if HR is aware of the situation and how you could let them know. (The direct approach is honest and may be best, but you may want to arrange for a private conversation about it with someone you trust in that section. Or, you may wish to send a letter or email showing your evidence.) Nothing may change–but it might. And that would be a benefit to many. In the meantime–how can you keep from feeling frustrated? I don’t know that there is a sure way, except to simply put your focus on your work–and the work of others that affects your own.

Do your best to limit your awareness of the situation and don’t discuss it with others. Be civil and courteous. Your thoughts about putting blinders on may be what are required! That’s not the optimal way to work–but it will keep you from obsessing about an unfair situation. You may also find that by developing many interests outside of work, you are more able to deal with work issues. I often talk about the triangle of mental and spiritual health. On one side is one’s work and all that involves. On another is one’s friends and family. And the third is the individual and his or her interests, hobbies, affiliations and other things that balance the strong area of work. You need all three–you definitely need more than work! While at work, find a way to be the best organizational citizen possible. Look for ways to contribute and be a strong team member. That way, even if there is unfairness, you will find strength and support from those with whom you interact–and you will give them support as well.

You obviously have a great deal of inner strength. But it also may be that you are being less than honest with yourself when you indicate that you don’t wish to do anything about your boss’s behavior. It obviously DOES bother you and that may never go away. Consider your options and take action if you feel you can and would like to. Otherwise, keep the faith and do what you can to enrich your specific work environment. I hope that these thoughts might trigger some thoughts of your own. Please let us know what develops in this situation. Think WEGO and your actions will be honorable.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.