Nepotism in the Workplace: 6 Ways HR Can Spot It


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Thursday, July 28, 2022

Businesses must be careful when executives hire family members that they don’t favor them over other employees.

Article 3 Minutes
Nepotism in the Workplace: 6 Ways HR Can Spot It

Nepotism can be one of the hardest issues for an HR department to deal with. This is mainly because there are so many elements at play in the workplace that nepotism can be masked by other factors.

HR professionals must be aware of the signs; knowing how to spot nepotism is the first step in making sure it doesn’t become an accepted practice within your company.

What is nepotism?

Favoring family members over other employees in the workplace is known as nepotism. It can begin before you’ve even hired them as your connection might get them an interview when there are other more qualified candidates that have been overlooked. This can have a wide-ranging impact on your business, from missing out on the best talent to undermining your authority with other staff members.

That doesn’t mean you can’t employ a family member, it just means you need to ensure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Also, HR must keep an eye on the situation and not let family relations confer an unfair advantage on staff within the company.

How to spot nepotism

Signs of nepotism can be subtle, but members of the HR team should look out for:

1. Promotions and benefits that seem unfair

While promotions and benefits can be earned, it’s important to make sure that’s the case. Red flags can include other employees at the same level who have performed in the same way being overlooked for such rewards when a family member is granted them.

2. Overwhelming recognition for insignificant tasks

Making a big thing about congratulating a family member for completing a task others do on a regular basis can be a clear sign of nepotism. Even if it doesn’t result in any unfair material reward it can start to sow the seeds of discontent among your workforce.

3. Overlooking others’ achievements

The point above can be further underlined by competent workers not receiving recognition when they go above and beyond. This can be seen as having favorites and is bad for morale or motivating employees to fulfill their potential.

4. Prioritizing leave requests

Managers often need to make decisions about who is granted leave and when. If there’s a conflict of interest, then prioritizing a family member’s request over someone else’s could be seen as nepotism, especially if their reason for wanting time off is seen as trivial compared to the other request.

5. Unequal workload distribution

Distributing tasks unfairly amongst employees at the same level to make life easier for a relation is a clear sign of nepotism. This can often be brought to the attention of HR by one of the staff members who feel they’re the victim of the situation and should be treated seriously.

6. Overlooking errors

Another common symptom of nepotism is family members getting away with errors that would usually result in disciplinary action or even dismissal. It sets a bad example to other employees and can leave organizations open to legal issues if they then implement the policy elsewhere.

What to do if you identify nepotism in your organization

If you recognize any of the behavior highlighted above, then as an HR professional it’s your job to act on it. Do so in a careful and methodical manner so you can get a clear picture of the situation and identify the best way to move forward.

  • Record the instances of nepotism as they occur and keep them on file
  • Obtain multiple viewpoints on the situation to gain a greater understanding
  • Be professional and don’t point the finger without facts to support your argument
  • Take the context into consideration to determine if it’s truly nepotism or another issue
  • Establish if any illegal practices have occurred, such as discrimination or harassment
  • Refer to your business’ anti-nepotism policy and put one in place if necessary

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