Survey: When It Comes to Promotions, Favoritism Usually Trumps Objectivity

You always suspected you didn’t get that promotion because the boss played favorites. Now there’s evidence you’re right.

The majority of bosses in a new study admit they knew who they wanted to promote before the formal process got underway. And it doesn’t matter that the majority of the companies had a formal evaluation process.

Published by Georgetown University, the study by Jonathan Gardner, COO and senior managing director of Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, found 56 percent of large company executives (firms with more than 1,000 employees) with more than one candidate for a promotion already had a favorite.

After going through the evaluation process, 96 percent of those managers with a favorite, gave them the job. Twenty-nine percent of the managers had only one candidate.

Only 23% say they play favorites

No wonder, then, that 78 percent of managers said their promotion decision was easy. And no wonder, too, that 92 percent say favoritism exists in most large organizations.

Remarkably, though three-quarters of the survey participants say they have personally witnessed favoritism where they work, only 23 percent own up to playing favorites themselves.

What is this favoritism? Gardner, the study’s author, defines it as: “Preferential treatment of an employee for assignments, credit, opinion, influence, or advancement on the basis of factors that do not directly relate to a person’s ability to perform his or her job function, such as background, ideology or gut instincts.”

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Despite knowing about favoritism in their organization or having practiced it themselves, 83 percent of the senior executives in the survey said it leads to poorer promotion decisions.

If you find this all has an Alice in Wonderland feel to it, consider that by a large measure the executives said job performance, leadership potential, job skills, and similar work-related measures were among the most important factors influencing their promotion decision.

The study goes on to detail what the executives considered important traits in a leader. Being a good communicator and ethical came out on top.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


2 Comments on “Survey: When It Comes to Promotions, Favoritism Usually Trumps Objectivity

  1. You hit the nail on the head, John. I’ve known far too many hiring managers who believe their normative assessments of employees are more accurate than concrete data. But with the right approach, hiring decisions driven by data-backed analysis have proved more effective:

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