Is Office Nepotism Taboo Or Totally Acceptable?

Nepotism is a word that makes people uncomfortable. No wonder. It’s a word that is associated with corruption and share the same notoriety as the word “incest.”

The term nepotism traces its origins to the 16th century, when it entered the vocabulary, thanks to Gregorio Leti’s book, Il Nepotismo di Roma. The book delved into the nepotism practiced by popes, which started during the papacy of Sixtus IV in the 1500s.

According to Merriam-Webster, nepotism, which borrows from the  Italian word for “nephew”, nipote, came into being during the Pope’s reign, when he gave in to favors from family, mostly his nephews.

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If you look at multi-billion business empires, most of them are run by people who don’t fall far from the family tree. But billion-worth or not, you are most likely to entrust your business to family as well. Unless you’re Michael Bluth.

Which begs the question: Is working with relatives acceptable or is it still taboo?

Depends on the situation

The answer varies depending on your biases.

Nepotism, like its evil brother favoritism, is frowned upon because it usually brings forth unhealthy competition between colleagues, and feelings of resentment from non-relatives of such “favorites.”

I personally do not have any problem working with the relatives of a boss or colleague, although it’s a whole new story, for sure, if I will be put in a position that competes with them. But I never had any issues so far.

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However, not everyone will have the same, palatable experience. How can one maintain a positive outlook then in the midst of all this?

How should an office make sure that their employee doesn’t feel taken for granted around these so-called relatives and friends?

Preventing office nepotism

The answer is simple. Workplaces can train managers on how to avoid perpetrating this terrible habit of favoring friends or relatives over hard-working colleagues.

Andrea Hrab, an HR professional who writes for eSkills, advised HR managers to conduct seminars for employees to educate them what favoritism and nepotism are, why they do not benefit the office, and what employees should do about them.

“If your employees are clear on what to look for, they’ll be more likely to report it if they see it,” she said.

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Making all employees accountable, regardless of their rank in the organization, is paramount as well. No special treatments for those who can’t comply.

“The key to countering the negative effects of nepotism is accountability. Unfortunately, personal and employee accountability is a rare animal these days,” wrote Chris Young of the Rainmaker Group in an article.

Coping with office nepotism

There is no “coping” with office nepotism. You have to report it to your HR manager the moment you encounter it;  better yet, set things straight with the persons involved.

I did so with a former manager before, and it led to a productive conversation. In fact, this “favoritism” never occurred again. It made my manager, I assume, to become more self-conscious of his actions. Maybe he just needs to be reminded that he needs treat all his subordinates fairly.

No one is perfect, and your manager is no different. With all the responsibilities on his plate, it is possible for him to make mistakes sometimes and unintentionally pay less attention to his treatment of you. Addressing the problem head-on is both your responsibility.

What are your thoughts on nepotism and favoritism? Is working with your boss’ close friend or relative a hindrance, or something that shouldn’t be viewed as such? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

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Sandy Miguel is an independent website publisher, journalist and photographer from the Philippines. She used to be the managing director of an advertising technology provider where she managed around 50 online contractors at one time. Sandy writes about managing work-related stress, exploring one's options outside the four corners of an office, and work-life balance for Get Over Your Job.