Favouritism is rife in the UK workplace and is holding back career development.

That is according to O.C. Tanner’s 2021 Global Culture Report, which has found that almost half (47 per cent) of UK employees believe that not everyone in their organisation is given a fair opportunity to develop and grow.

Half of employees stated that favouritism has an impact on the rewards programmes offered by companies, with almost half (45 per cent) stating that their company consistently rewards high performers.

Many feel that the pandemic has exacerbated the prevalence of workplace favouritism, as the way the country works has changed dramatically over the last year.

Some are concerned about the presence of ‘proximity bias’ as employees return to the office, with some bosses potentially more inclined to hand an assignment to an in-person employee, or to ask for their input.

Employees have voiced concerns that they feel pressure to return to the office as it will affect the way they are treated as staff, such as Google recently stating that employees who do not want to return to the office may suffer a pay cut.

It is not just pay people are concerned about, but the presence of favouritism. For example, in 2015, a study showed that remote workers at a Chinese travel agency had higher levels of performance, but lost out to in-house staff on performance-based promotions.

Robert Ordever, Managing Director of O.C. Tanner Europe, said:

It’s all too easy for managerial favouritism to creep into everyday working life, with those identified as ‘high fliers’ being given preferential treatment.

The issue is that favouritism is rarely acknowledged and is often brushed under the carpet if broached. It occurs discretely and often with no intention of causing harm, but can do a great deal of damage to employee engagement and development.

Currently, under two in five (38 per cent) organisations incorporate recognition into everyday culture, and less than half of UK employees (47 per cent) stated that their efforts or accomplishments were recognised within the past month.

O.C. Tanner has recommended that businesses implement fair and transparent processes with a recognition-led workplace culture to help avoid a culture of ‘favourites’.

Mr Ordever added:

 Leaders must therefore acknowledge that favouritism may be an issue and start conversations with managers on how to avoid it. And by prioritising inclusivity, this ensures that everyone is given the same opportunities, not just those who flatter the managers and talk the loudest!


*In order to obtain this research, qualitative findings came from 12 focus groups and 77 interviews among employees and leaders of larger organisations. Each group represented various types of employers, including both private and public entities.