Are you getting harsher criticism compared to your peers? Did your boss exclude you from a project because you’re “too young for this kind of assignment”? Or maybe you’ve seen how they’re treating other people in the same role way better than you?
Watch out, all of these are problematic workplace practices.
4 Common Examples of How a Boss May Treat You Differently
Recognizing signs of problematic relationships with your boss is crucial as these can both affect your professional status and personal well-being. Disparate treatment, favoritism, ostracization, and being singled out negatively are all warning signs you can’t ignore.
The concept of disparate treatment, also called adverse treatment, refers to when employees are treated unfairly based on their characteristics like age, gender, ethnicity, or physical abilities.
Examples of disparate treatment include:
- Giving preferences to resumes with names that seem white
- Prioritizing the promotion of male employees over female
- Different employment conditions (e.g., benefits) for workers of different age
- Lay-off or firing decisions, based on a personal, rather than objective characteristic
Showing any sort of disparate treatment is one of the things your boss can’t legally do. But to be considered a punishable offense, you’ll have to provide proof of their actions.
According to the US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, valid forms of proof can be comparative evidence. For example, workers of one gender (say women) have been treated differently in the same work situation than their male counterparts. Such proof, however, can be hard to obtain, especially if your current workplace promotes other toxic practices like gaslighting.
What Can I Do?
- Get better educated on your rights. Does your employment contract have any clauses around disparate treatment? What about workplace policies or the code of conduct? Browse all the available corporate resources to better understand how you should act in such a situation and what your employer’s obligations are.
- Document your suspicions. Try to keep a paper trail of instances when you were treated differently. Talk with your peers about whether they got the same vibe from your boss to corroborate your story. Such information is vital if you ever decide to file a formal complaint.
- Talk up HR. The purpose of a human resource function is to help navigate and prevent such workplace issues. Start with a casual chat, sharing your concerns. If no meaningful action follows, consider reporting your boss formally.
Favoritism at Work
While some people get the cold shoulder, others always get glowing praise from your boss. Favoritism at work is increasingly common. According to different research sources:
- Half of workers say that their supervisors practice favoritism and 30% of HR managers agree that favoritism does have a place in their organization.
- 56% of executives have a favorite candidate for promotion decisions — and 96% will promote their candidate, rather than consider candidates with stronger communication skills.
- 20% of workers also admit that they’re being treated better than their peers due to favoritism from their boss.
While it does feel nice to be the “star employee” in the eye of your manager, playing up to this factor alone can negatively impact your career. On the other hand, if you’re not in your bosses’ buddy circle, you’d probably get unfairly overlooked and perhaps even taken advantage of in some situations.
What Can I Do?
- Initiate an open dialogue. There’s just one (or few) favorites and more disgruntled employees like you. Team up and approach your boss during a team meeting. Don’t attack them directly. Instead, talk about how you’d all like to get more equal recognition and personalized feedback.
- Pitch a peer recognition program. Perhaps your boss just doesn’t have time to give objective performance reviews to everyone (which is often the case). Suggest creating a peer performance process, where all team members could exchange public or anonymous feedback to celebrate each other’s strengths and contributions.
- Discuss succession planning with HR. If your main concern is that you may get overlooked for a promotion due to favoritism, swing by an HR office. Instead of airing your concerns, ask to explain how promotion decisions are made. Are there any specific KPIs or goals you should hit to become an apparent candidate for promotion?
Being Singled Out Negatively
You appear to be your superior’s “favorite” person to criticize or bring up as a negative example for others. Personally, it’s hurtful. Professionally, such behaviors are unacceptable.
Being singled out at work for the wrong reasons can mean several things:
- Your boss may feel threatened by you. So they attempt to bring down your confidence levels or prevent you from earning “brownie points” with other managers.
- Your boss wants you to quit voluntarily. When you quit your job, instead of getting terminated, the company can avoid paying any severance. Likewise, your boss may not like you personally or would rather have their protege on your spot.
Of course, there may be a ton of other reasons why your boss negatively singles you out. But it doesn’t mean you should tolerate any of these!
What Can I Do?
- Don’t lash out. Your boss may be seeking confrontation with you to paint you in a negative light to HR or other managers. Don’t go with their pricks. Maintain a cool, professional composure and avoid any harsh responses.
- Consider a transfer. Approach HR with the possibility of changing teams or departments. Explain your reasons for seeking the transfer and ask for any other advice they could give to resolve the matter.
- Raise the issue via appropriate channels. Larger organizations have anonymous channels for sharing concerns about problematic workplace behavior. If you’re not ready to make a formal complaint, consider using other available means.
Being Ostracized At Work
Ostracization is the most extreme form of marginalization in the workplace. In this case, your boss (or even an entire team) gives you frequent silent treatment, excludes you from important conversations, and otherwise undermines your activity.
Although ostracism isn’t illegal, it’s mentally taxing. You’re likely on the verge of telling your boss that you quit, even if you don’t have another job opportunity lined up. But before you submit your resignation, try a couple more things.
What Can I Do?
- Get the emotional support you need. Seek solace with your family, friends, or the few colleagues who talk to you to de-stress and power through this unfortunate situation.
- Confront your boss or higher-ups directly. Bring up the exact cases (and witness accounts if possible) when you’ve been ostracized to make a strong claim. See if anyone’s willing to solve the issue.
- Brush up your resume and start job hunting. Show up to your job and do what’s required, while updating your resume and applying to better positions!
One of the main signs of a good workplace is that your boss treats everyone equitably and fairly. Neither favoritism nor any form of disparate treatment should be tolerated by employees. Remember, you deserve to be treated fairly and with respect, and it’s up to you to take action to ensure that your mental health and personal rights are protected!