Career Advice

Nepotism in the Workplace: What It Is and How to Deal With It

Nepotism, also known as favoritism, could hurt your place of work and the growth of your company.

If you’ve previously worked in a family-owned organization in which the owner’s friend or relative rose through the ranks despite lacking the necessary qualifications, you understand the value of a nepotism policy.

You must know the implications of ethically questionable employee attitudes and learn how to resolve them as a boss to supply workers with just and equitable possibilities in your company. One unethical workplace behavior and attitude to be aware of is nepotism.

What is nepotism?

Nepotism is the procedure through which individuals in roles of authority or impact inside a company utilize their influence or authority to employ underqualified relatives instead of promoting valuable staff or employing external, qualified applicants. When hired relatives are given preferential treatment or even little sanctions in comparison to other staff members, this is referred to as favoritism.

Obtaining work opportunities or an employee advantage for a close family member has become such a crucial concern for businesses that the law in certain states addresses it. It quickly becomes apparent that government servants must preserve the image of objectivity, and an official anti-favoritism rule appears to be a reasonable decision to tackle this problem in huge government organizations. Supervisors may question whether a nepotism policy is necessary or significant for smaller businesses.

What is nepotism in the workplace?

Nepotism in the workplace refers to the practice of favoring relatives, friends, or close acquaintances when making decisions related to hiring, promotions, raises, assignments, or other career-related opportunities. Instead of basing these decisions solely on qualifications, skills, and merit, nepotism involves giving preferential treatment to individuals based on personal relationships or affiliations. This can create an environment where personal connections hold more weight than a person’s abilities and can lead to unfair and biased decision-making processes.

Nepotism can manifest in various ways, including:

  1. Hiring Family Members: Hiring or promoting family members, such as children, siblings, or spouses, without considering their qualifications or fit for the role.
  2. Favoring Friends or Acquaintances: Providing advantages to friends, close associates, or individuals with personal connections, even if there are more qualified candidates available.
  3. Creating Special Privileges: Offering special treatment, benefits, or opportunities to individuals based on personal relationships rather than objective criteria.
  4. Ignoring Merit: Overlooking more qualified candidates in favor of those with personal ties, regardless of their competence for the position.
  5. Promoting Without Evaluation: Promoting individuals to higher positions without a proper evaluation of their skills, experience, or suitability for the role.
  6. Granting Unearned Advantages: Offering unwarranted raises, bonuses, or opportunities to individuals due to their relationships rather than their performance.

Nepotism can have negative implications for the work environment, employee morale, and the organization’s overall success. It can lead to resentment, a lack of trust, and decreased motivation among employees who feel that their efforts may not be adequately recognized or rewarded. Additionally, nepotism can hinder diversity and inclusion efforts by limiting opportunities for individuals who lack personal connections within the organization.

To foster a fair and inclusive workplace, organizations should prioritize merit-based decision-making, transparency, and equal treatment of all employees when it comes to hiring, promotions, and other opportunities. This helps ensure that individuals are recognized and rewarded based on their qualifications and contributions rather than personal relationships.

Nepotism in its various forms

An individual who holds a position of authority may employ a close relative for a wide range of reasons. Similarly, a close relative may take the job for a range of reasons. According to, there are two major types of favoritism you may experience:

Reciprocal nepotism

Reciprocal nepotism is a kind of favoritism in which a member of the family is hired and that member of the family assumes the role depending on the following criteria:

  • Dependency (financial dependence)
  • The degree of the exchanges (Remuneration, place of work, dedication, improved family relations)
  • Cultural expectations (cases where nepotism was previously tolerated)

Reciprocal nepotism refers to a situation where two parties engage in a mutually beneficial practice of favoritism or preferential treatment, often involving the hiring, promotion, or advancement of individuals based on personal relationships rather than merit or qualifications. Unlike traditional nepotism, where one party grants favors to their relatives or close associates, reciprocal nepotism involves a mutual exchange of such favors between two parties, each benefiting from the other’s influence.

In the context of reciprocal nepotism, the exchange of favors might involve hiring the relatives or acquaintances of another person in return for a similar favor. For example, two individuals in different organizations might agree to hire each other’s relatives or contacts, even if those individuals do not possess the necessary qualifications for the positions. This practice can undermine the principles of fairness, equal opportunity, and meritocracy in organizations.

Reciprocal nepotism can create an unhealthy work environment, erode trust among employees, and lead to the perception that promotions and opportunities are not based on merit but on personal connections. It can also hinder diversity and inclusion efforts by prioritizing personal relationships over a diverse pool of qualified candidates.

Overall, reciprocal nepotism represents a form of unethical behavior that compromises the integrity of professional decision-making and undermines the fairness and transparency that should be upheld in workplaces.

Entitlement Nepotism

Entitlement nepotism is a form of favoritism in which the employed relative feels entitled to a role purely because their close relative is employed by an organization.

Entitlement nepotism refers to a situation where individuals who have personal connections or family relationships expect and believe they are entitled to certain privileges, positions, or benefits within an organization solely based on their connections, rather than their qualifications or merits. This form of nepotism is characterized by a sense of entitlement and an assumption that personal relationships should automatically grant special treatment, even if it contradicts principles of fairness, equal opportunity, and competence.

In cases of entitlement nepotism, individuals may believe that their family ties or personal associations should give them preferential treatment in hiring, promotions, assignments, or other opportunities within the organization. This attitude can lead to the selection of individuals who may not be the most qualified for a role, compromising the organization’s performance and potentially creating resentment among other employees.

Entitlement nepotism can have negative effects on workplace morale, as employees who do not have personal connections may feel demotivated and unfairly treated. It can also create an environment of favoritism and erode trust among team members and within the organization.

To promote a healthy and fair work environment, organizations should emphasize meritocracy, transparency, and equal opportunity in their practices, and ensure that decisions regarding hiring, promotions, and other opportunities are based on qualifications and skills rather than personal relationships.

Detrimental consequences of nepotism in the organization.

Below are some instances of the negative consequences of favoritism in the organization.

It contributes to an unpleasant working environment.

It creates an unpleasant workplace in which staff feels unappreciated. This could happen when a supervisor employs a close relative for a role and gives them benefits or obligations that their other workers aren’t entitled to. This could result in anger toward both the close relative and the supervisor.

Lowers employee performance.

Favoritism in the organization may have an impact on your workers’ work performance and thoughts about the organization. If a worker starts to display low employee morale, other workers may follow suit. As an outcome, there exists an absence of commitment toward the task in question.

Causes of productivity losses

Furthermore, for a multitude of reasons, it could result in reduced work productivity. Initially, reduced productivity could happen when a boss permits an underqualified relative to take part in a job role in which they lack experience. This could result in mistakes as well as a sluggish workplace environment.

Furthermore, when individuals in positions of authority grant promotions to members of the family who have no previous background with the organization, it could generate a sense of despair in workers who have worked hard for advancement. This could result in a reduction in drive and determination because they believe their efforts are not being recognized or valued.

Enhances the rate of employee turnover

If a system enables favoritism to happen, skilled individuals may look for a job somewhere else. particularly with businesses that place a premium on dedication and expertise over family connections. This could be troubling for your company because it restricts your chances of keeping excellent, talented employees who could assist your company to prosper.

Diminished Meritocracy

Nepotism undermines the principle of meritocracy, where individuals are rewarded and advanced based on their skills, qualifications, and performance. When positions are filled based on personal connections rather than merit, it can lead to an environment where talented and deserving employees are overlooked.

Reduced Motivation and Engagement

Employees who perceive nepotism in their workplace may become demotivated and disengaged. When they feel that promotions and opportunities are not accessible through their hard work and contributions, their commitment to the organization can wane.

Deteriorating Trust and Morale

Nepotism erodes trust among employees and between employees and management. Those who believe that favoritism is prevalent may question the fairness of decision-making processes, leading to a decline in trust and a negative impact on overall morale.

Conflict and Resentment

Nepotism can lead to conflict and resentment among employees. When individuals perceive that others are receiving preferential treatment due to personal relationships, it can create tension and a sense of unfairness within teams and the broader organization.

Missed Opportunities for Growth

Talented employees who are overlooked due to nepotism may seek opportunities elsewhere, leading to a loss of valuable human capital for the organization. This can impact the organization’s ability to innovate and thrive.

Ineffective Leadership

Appointing individuals to leadership positions based on nepotism rather than leadership abilities can result in ineffective leadership. This can negatively impact decision-making, team dynamics, and overall organizational direction.

Negative Reputation

Organizations that are perceived as practicing nepotism can develop a negative reputation both within and outside the industry. This can deter top talent from seeking employment with the organization and damage relationships with clients, partners, and stakeholders.

Decreased Diversity and Inclusion

Nepotism can hinder diversity and inclusion efforts by limiting the opportunities available to individuals who do not have personal connections within the organization. This can lead to a lack of diverse perspectives and experiences.

Compromised Performance

When employees are placed in roles for which they are not qualified, it can compromise overall performance. Incompetent employees may struggle to meet job requirements, leading to decreased efficiency and effectiveness.

Erosion of Organizational Culture

Nepotism can contribute to a toxic work culture where favoritism prevails over teamwork, collaboration, and mutual respect. This can impact employee satisfaction and hinder the development of a positive work environment.

Legal and Ethical Concerns

In some cases, nepotism can raise legal and ethical concerns, particularly if it involves violations of anti-discrimination laws or codes of conduct. This can lead to legal disputes and damage the organization’s reputation.

To foster a healthy and productive work environment, organizations should prioritize fair and transparent practices in recruitment, promotions, and opportunities. Merit-based decision-making and a commitment to equal treatment of all employees contribute to a positive workplace culture and overall organizational success.

What to look for and how to pinpoint nepotism

Employing a relative is not usually a bad idea. This becomes nepotism once they engage in questionable actions and the family member in charge of supervising them refuses to penalize them. Below are a few warning signs of workplace favoritism to look out for:

Family members are unqualified.

If any of your supervisors or corporate executives employ a relative who is incompetent for a role, this may be an indication of nepotism. Ensure that you speak with them to discover more about the reasons they hired an underqualified relative. It may be because they genuinely believe in their professional skills, but it might also be largely attributable to less favorable circumstances.

They avoid sanctions.

If you start noticing that a boss’s relative is never chastised for coming late to work, missing due dates, or failing to follow the uniform policy, this could be an indication of nepotism. This is due to the worker in authority showing favoritism towards their relative by not wanting to hold them to the same benchmarks as other colleagues in the department.

They exhibit unprofessionalism.

Nepotism could be detected if a staff relative regularly exhibits unprofessional habits such as acting rude to other workers, using vulgar words, or shouting back at their supervisor and relative. This is because the relative or friend with the authority to stop this unprofessionalism prefers not to do so because it is in the best interest of their relative.

Other workers have approached you or human resources with complaints.

Finally, if your workers make complaints about nepotism to either you or human resources, this represents a telling indication of nepotism that cannot be overlooked. You must meet with all of those staff members to find out more about their observations and to ensure that they are understood and appreciated.

Keep documentation of such occurrences before jumping to conclusions or taking preventative measures. If the habits persist, consult with the worker and the person who recruited them to figure out the ideal next step.

Unqualified Hires or Promotions

When individuals are hired or promoted to positions for which they lack the necessary qualifications or experience, it may indicate nepotism.

Frequent Family or Friend Hires

If there is a consistent trend of hiring family members, friends, or close associates without a clear demonstration of their qualifications, it could be a sign of nepotism.

Rapid Advancement

If an individual with personal connections experiences unusually rapid career advancement or promotions, it may raise suspicion of nepotism.

Excessive Favoritism

If certain individuals consistently receive special treatment, benefits, or opportunities without apparent justification, it could suggest nepotism.

Bypassing Standard Processes

If standard recruitment, evaluation, or promotion processes are bypassed in favor of individuals with personal ties, it may indicate nepotism.

Lack of Transparency

When decisions related to hiring, promotions, or assignments lack transparency and clear justification, it can raise concerns about potential nepotism.

Ignoring Employee Feedback

If employee feedback or concerns about potential nepotism are consistently dismissed or ignored by management, it could be an indicator.

Perceived Biases

When employees perceive that personal relationships influence decisions more than qualifications, it may point to a culture of nepotism.

Overlapping Roles

If roles are created or adjusted to accommodate the employment of family members or friends, it could be a sign of nepotism.

Lack of Diversity

A lack of diversity in hiring or promotions, particularly if certain groups seem to receive preferential treatment, could suggest nepotism.

To pinpoint nepotism more effectively:

  1. Gather Information: Collect data on hiring, promotions, and decisions to identify any trends that may indicate nepotism.
  2. Compare Qualifications: Compare the qualifications and experience of employees who received opportunities with those who were overlooked. Look for discrepancies.
  3. Analyze Behavior: Observe any unprofessional behavior, such as excessive familiarity, between decision-makers and individuals benefiting from nepotism.
  4. Talk to Colleagues: Engage in open conversations with colleagues to understand their perceptions and experiences regarding fairness in decisions.
  5. Review Policies: Assess company policies and guidelines related to recruitment, promotions, and conflict of interest to identify any loopholes that may facilitate nepotism.
  6. Document Instances: Keep a record of instances where nepotism may have occurred, including dates, individuals involved, and specific details.
  7. Raise Concerns: If you suspect nepotism, express your concerns through appropriate channels, such as HR or management, with documented evidence.
  8. Seek Transparency: Encourage transparency in decision-making processes and advocate for a culture of equal opportunity and fairness.

Remember that while some situations may raise suspicions of nepotism, it’s important to gather sufficient evidence before making any formal accusations. Addressing nepotism requires a balanced and careful approach to ensure a fair resolution for all parties involved.


In conclusion, nepotism in the workplace poses significant challenges to organizational fairness, transparency, and employee morale. The practice of favoring personal relationships over qualifications undermines the principles of meritocracy and equal opportunity that are crucial for fostering a healthy work environment. Recognizing and addressing nepotism requires vigilance, open communication, and a commitment to fair and transparent decision-making processes.

Organizations that prioritize merit-based evaluations, clear policies, and a culture of professionalism can create a workplace where talent and contributions are valued above personal connections, ultimately leading to increased employee engagement, trust, and overall success. By promoting a level playing field for all employees, organizations can foster a more inclusive and equitable workplace that benefits both individuals and the organization as a whole.

Frequently asked questions about nepotism in the workplace

  • So what is the distinction between cronyism and nepotism?

The distinction between the two is that nepotism involves a person favoring a relative at work, while cronyism involves a person favoring an acquaintance or friend at work.

What is the impact of nepotism on employee morale?

  • Answer: Nepotism can significantly impact employee morale by creating feelings of resentment, frustration, and demotivation among those who believe that opportunities are unfairly distributed based on personal relationships. Employees who perceive nepotism may feel undervalued and discouraged from putting in their best effort, leading to decreased job satisfaction and a negative impact on overall team dynamics.
  • How can organizations prevent and address nepotism?

Organizations can prevent and address nepotism by implementing clear and transparent policies related to recruitment, promotions, and conflict of interest. These policies should emphasize merit-based decision-making and equal opportunity for all employees. Encouraging open communication channels and whistleblower protections can empower employees to report instances of nepotism without fear of retaliation. Regular training on ethical behavior and unbiased decision-making can also contribute to a workplace culture that values fairness.

  • Is hiring a qualified family member or friend considered nepotism?

Not necessarily. Hiring a qualified family member or friend who meets the job requirements and goes through the same rigorous evaluation process as other candidates is not necessarily nepotism. Nepotism occurs when personal relationships or affiliations lead to preferential treatment that bypasses standard procedures and qualifications. The key distinction is whether the individual’s qualifications genuinely match the job’s demands and if the hiring process remains transparent and fair for all applicants.

  • How do you cope with workplace nepotism?

You could cope with workplace nepotism by incorporating a number of the following measures into your industry’s procedures:

  • Establish anti-nepotism procedures and guidelines that will be incorporated into the industry’s ethical standards.
  • Offer an anonymous platform for workers to express their concerns about nepotism inside the organization.
  • Collaborate with human resources to create a procedure for reporting nepotism.
  • Create a “friends and relatives” employment program that evaluates each individual’s qualifications and skills before determining if they are a suitable fit for the business and at what job level they would succeed.

Understanding the implications of nepotism, its impact on workplace dynamics, and the steps organizations can take to prevent it are essential for maintaining a fair and productive work environment.

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