Strategies for Dealing with a Department Chair That Plays Favorites


An imbalance of power is an issue in practically every workplace. The power imbalance can take many different forms. For instance,.favoritism runs rampant in the workplace. And even if the favoritism leans your way, it can have serious career implications. However, calling out favoritism is a risky maneuver.  

For one, many in supervisor positions are blind to their favoritism, insisting that they treat everyone in the department equally. Secondly, confronting favoritism can change the dynamic among colleagues in a way that’s detrimental to the department as a whole.

So, what can you do if your Department Chair is prone to playing favorites? There are strategies for dealing with the situation without jeopardizing your position.

The Trouble With Favoritism in Academics

No one likes to feel left out or excluded. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when the boss favors one team member over another. Even if the favoritism is perceived and not a reality, it can affect the working relationship of an entire department by creating resentment.

The favored employee often gets the best assignments, promotions, and the highest praise. Even those in higher education can fall victim to favoritism in the workplace.

The trouble with favoritism in academics is that the department needs to be a cohesive unit. But if the Department Chair plays favorites, resentment and hostility can build amongst the team. And then the students or the research work suffer the consequences.

What should you do if you suspect your boss is playing favorites?

What Not to Do, First

Before you consider what you should do, what shouldn’t you do? Addressing the alleged favoritism wrongly can put you on your boss’s bad side and torpedo your burgeoning career. On the other hand, if you’re the favored in the department, it can be difficult to work alongside disgruntled colleagues.  

Speaking directly to your boss or HR is not the first move to make or even the second. In fact, going above your boss’s head should be a last resort. You should also avoid outright accusing your co-workers of getting favored treatment. 

It may be easier to simply toe the party line and accept that favoritism in the workplace is a fact of life. Or you can utilize certain strategies to make the work environment an even ground.

Strategies to Handle Work Environment Favoritism

If you believe your Department Chair is playing favorites, you first need to have an honest conversation with yourself. If you lack appreciation and attention from your boss, ask yourself about your work contribution.

Are you working as hard as your colleagues? Are you the first to leave at the end of the day, or do you stay extra hours? Is your work up to par with others in the department? Does the perceived favorite have more qualifications and experience than others in the department?

If you still think favoritism is in play after an honest look at your work, what should you do?

If you’re being mistreated, one course of action is to advocate for yourself. Take on assignments that will highlight your expertise and qualifications. Show that you’re a team player by praising your colleagues for their successes that may get overlooked.  

Another strategy is to speak to the Department Chair about your career goals and ask for guidance on how to achieve them. Additionally, if you’re feeling insecure about your place in the department, ask for an honest review of your work. But be prepared not to like what you hear.

You can even ask your boss or someone of a similar level to be your mentor, which will give you opportunities to grow.

When All Else Fails, Use Your Impactio Network for Help

Another avenue to explore when it comes to combating favoritism in the workplace is Impactio, America’s leading platform for those in academia.

Connect with other scholars and researchers on the platform. There, you can find advice or more resources to combat favoritism in the workplace. In addition, you will have access to a large opportunity for professional networking.


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