What to do when your boss plays favorites
Not part of the inner circle? You can try to level the playing field, or take your talent elsewhere.
You see your co-worker hanging out in your boss’ office almost every day. They laugh, make inside jokes and seem more like longtime buddies than employer and employee. Anytime you try to join the camaraderie, they don’t exactly embrace your contributions to their little social circle—it’s more like they tolerate you. And coincidentally (or not), the high-profile projects always seem to go to this particular coworker.
Yep, your boss clearly has a favorite. These tips can help keep your career moving forward when that favorite isn’t you.
Get a reality check
Your supervisor’s favoritism may be frustrating, but try not to let it get to you. Complaining and whining about it won’t help you get ahead, says Billie Sucher, a career-transition management expert, so focus on maintaining your professionalism. One way to do that is to get honest with yourself—even if that means taking a slice of humble pie.
“No one wants to admit that a colleague might be more experienced or skilled [and thus enjoys more face-time with the boss], but in reality, this is frequently the case,” says Alexandra Levit, author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. “If you really believe favoritism is in question, talk to a mentor outside the situation—in confidence—for an honest and fair assessment.”
Don’t limit this assessment to just the technical aspects of your job. “Take a good look at your performance and relationships at work,” says Hannah Morgan, career strategist and founder of CareerSherpa.net. “Are you easy to get along with? Do you have strong relationships with your colleagues? Do they trust you? All of these factors are equally as important as your qualifications to do the job.”
You can also choose to address the issue directly with your boss to get his or her feedback. Focus the conversation on how you can improve your performance, Sucher says. Rather than expressing anger or frustration about your place in the office hierarchy, ask what you can do to become a more valuable member of the team. Additionally, discuss your own short- and long-term goals with your boss, and lay out plans that will help you get where you want to be, Levit says.
Take the reins
While it would certainly be nice to be chummy with your supervisor, it’s not a prerequisite in order for you to excel at your job. Instead of concerning yourself with your boss’s feelings about you relative to your coworkers, concentrate your energy on what actually matters—the work you do.
“You cannot control the actions of your boss; you can only control your reaction to him or her,” says Sucher. “Focus on what is before you—your tasks, accountabilities and serving your customers and employer to the best of your ability.”
Make sure your boss knows you’re doing great work by regularly reporting on your accomplishments. “Don’t just go to your boss when there is a problem,” says Boni Candelario, a New York City-based career coach. “Set yourself apart and express your successes and how they relate to your department’s success.”
Proactively pitch project ideas in areas your boss cares about. If you’re getting passed over for assignments you think you should have, provide your boss with reasons and facts to support why you should get the next one, Morgan says.
Know when to walk
After you make your case to your boss, his or her reaction should help you decide if it’s worth staying at this job or not, Morgan says. So let’s say you’ve spoken to your boss, discussed your aspirations for more challenging work and explained your personal goals, and your boss has emphatically agreed that you should be working on bigger, better projects. Terrific! Except the next time a plum account becomes available, you’re once again passed over, leaving you bored and unchallenged in your role.
Unfortunately, you may still find that your boss is dismissive toward your goals and uninterested in helping you move forward. That’s a flag.
“If you have done all that you can possibly do from a professional standpoint and are still uncomfortable in your environment, dust off your resume,” Sucher says. Take a first step in the right direction by setting up an account on Monster—so employers that are looking to hire can find you easily and so you can manage alerts on jobs you're interested in.
You can find a manager who will have your interests in mind. “There will always be favorites," says Sucher, "but a good leader knows and shows that all of her team members are her favorites.”