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Is your coworker like one of the family or is one of the family?

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

Let me preface this blog on nepotism by stating there is clearly a place for family businesses and organizations where related people work together for the good of the family cause and the good of the organization.

That said, there are also organizations where familial relationships exist that are not always for the good of the cause. Often, these come about through nepotism. In the cases where nepotism does lead to problems, it can cause an organizational breach in ethics.

The pros and cons of nepotism

Nepotism is favoritism granted to relatives without regard to merit of performance. Hiring of employer’s relatives, as well as relatives of existing employees, is fairly commonplace. And it has its upsides and downsides. The main upside is familiarity—family members know one another, and therefore no time is needed to establish relationships and trust.

The downsides, however, could be many. There is often baggage inherent in family relationships, and this baggage will inevitably be brought into the workplace. It is also very hard for employees who are relatives to perform their work duties objectively. If the employer or office manager has problems with one family member, there is a high likelihood that those problems will spill over and affect the relationship the employer has with other family members who are also employees. Nepotism causes problems with unrelated employees as well.

The backlash

There was a high level manager in one of my cases who was not very good at her job. She did not have a handle on finances, organization or leadership. One of her missteps was to pressure and eventually fire a key employee in order to give a position to her future daughter-in-law.

During my investigation, it appeared that this had clearly happened. It was a clear case of nepotism in action. While the other staff members were split in their support of the manager, they were all in agreement that the director who was fired was highly respected as a person and as a professional. Long story short, four key individuals resigned in protest, leaving the organization seriously short on staff. Due to this, the quality of service was threatened, which could produce conditions that could even precipitate lawsuits and bad public relations. This was serious. It also represented a breach in ethics.

How nepotism affected the corporate culture

Added to all of this was an additional problem at the “top.” With the hiring and promoting of the daughter-in-law, there was a coalition that effectively limited any sort of accountability from management. Staff could not complain or voice concerns to the executive director about the future daughter-in-law, nor could they voice concerns to said daughter-in-law about the manager.

Conclusion

The power of nepotism trumped accountability, which violated ethics principles, created a clear conflict of interest and resulted in a myriad of other problems including mass resignations. Watch for it.

Related reading:
5 proven ways to spot and avoid hiring potentially toxic employees … and what to do if you already have them
5 reasons why staff hate their jobs and look for greener pastures
To manage staff better, interview at the start of a job, not at the end

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