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My Boss Has a Favorite, And It’s Not Me!

Dear Stephen, 

Have you ever heard of bosses playing favorites with their subordinates? 

I’m in outside sales, I work in a team with twelve of us reporting to a regional manager. Our division always meets our sales goal. Everybody gets along. The woman I work for is a strong manager and a good leader. We all like her, but I feel like she plays favorites. She shares more of her time and attention with two of my colleagues, in particular. 

Coincidentally, she is a mom with kids, and the two employees that she is the closest to, are also mothers with children. I used to think that it was because they had more in common, but I realize now that it’s just because they’re her favorites. 

It’s like when children wonder if their parents have a favorite, and, sadly, most parents do. (Whether or not they will ever admit it). It’s an awkward situation, but some of us feel like we’re not invited to lunch the same amount of times as her favorites. I think the favorites know it, and feel a little awkward because of it, but it would be inappropriate to say anything, of course. 

Here’s the thing – I don’t believe that anybody is making any more money than anybody else or that anyone’s individual sales goals are treated differently because of favoritism. It’s not that black and white. Which makes it worse in a way because it’s a morale issue. I simply don’t feel I’m as close to my boss as those “special” colleagues are. She’s an experienced manager with a successful career - I find it hard to believe that she doesn’t realize the subtle winners vs. losers situation she has created. 

Should I share my feelings with her in my next review? Should I talk to my colleagues? I’m concerned if I say anything, there could be reprisal – but I’m tempted to bring it up because it’s bothering me. There are things like when executive management comes from HQ, and they have a dinner – I’m never included but some of my colleagues are. I feel similar slights when it comes to association meetings and work in general. What’s your suggestion?


Feeling like the middle child


Dear MC, 

I can relate because when I started one of my very first jobs, I felt like my boss had a favorite and I felt like it definitely was not me. I loved the job, and I loved the company, and I even liked my boss, but somehow, I felt like I just did not fit in in the sales division that I was working in. It always seems to be the little things that hurt the most. For me, it was things like who the boss would take to lunch or who the boss had drinks with. The worst part was when some big shot would come from HQ in Michigan and my boss would praise his favorite more than any of the rest of us on the team. 

To me it’s human nature. That’s why I tell people when they take a job, chemistry with your boss is the most important thing. I was very successful at my job, I always exceeded my sales goals; my boss just had more in common and better chemistry with one of my coworkers, it’s just the way that it is. And, it just never bothered me the way it bothers you.

By the way, my boss respected me, was nice to me, and promoted me. I just never felt special. 

If you’re in the position that you’re in now, or that I was in, it’s critical that you learn to navigate around your boss by communicating directly with your bosses’ bosses and develop relationships on your own, without in any way stepping on your boss’ toes. I’d be careful about bringing this up during an annual performance review, or discussing it with colleagues. No matter how you frame it, it will sound like complaining and people will be thinking, “get over it”. Work behind the scenes, as opposed to a direct, hard-to-prove, grievance. 

It’s also important to remember, it’s not imperative to be best pals with your boss. They’re not your friend. They’re your boss. It’s a four-letter word, and not the one you’re thinking of. But if it is the one you’re thinking of, it’s time to find a new job.

That means, if you need love from your boss, and you’re not getting it, then your job may not be right for you. Your boss is there to guide you, lead you and mentor you, but some people need so much positive affirmation, that they don’t receive in a business environment, and they keep changing jobs until they find that. By the way, that does not make you a great employee, that makes you what we call a “high-maintenance employee.” What I refer to in my books with the acronym HME. 

Bottom line is it’s not imperative that your boss treats you special or makes you feel warm and fuzzy. It’s important that they acknowledge your good work, they mentor and lead you; they don’t have to be your friend. Often the best bosses are not the friendliest bosses. 

Your particular situation sounds like you need a lot of affirmation that you’re not going to get from this particular woman, and if I were you, I would start looking to try and find that. Just remember this important advice, this is your problem, not your boss’s.