Organizational Wellness

Five Ways to Prevent Nepotism in the Workplace

Nov 13, 2023
Last Updated May 17, 2024

In an ideal work environment, merit, talent, and dedication should be the driving factors for workplace advancements and accolades. After all, fair treatment in the workplace contributes to employee wellbeing and the success of the overall business—it’s a win-win for human resources and employees alike.

Unfortunately, many of us have been overlooked or underappreciated because someone else is unfairly favored in our workplace. It can be doubly frustrating when someone is preferred simply because they know the boss on a personal level—which is what we call nepotism in the workplace. One study conducted by YouGov found that one in four Americans say that they’ve missed out on a job opportunity because someone else relied on personal contacts within the company to get the job. 

The good news is, the HR team can turn this kind of stats around by setting different expectations at work. Let’s discuss several key ways that will help you prevent nepotism in the workplace!


What Is Nepotism?

Nepotism is a type of favoritism in the workplace where family members or close acquaintances are given preferential treatment in employment matters. This can include processes like hiring, promotions, and other professional opportunities that should be rewarded based on the qualifications and abilities of the employee, not their relationship to those with influence.

As a human resources professional, you are the first line of defense in preventing this kind of favoritism, especially when it comes to promotions and recruitment practices. You play a big role in hiring, creating company-wide policies, and setting the tone in your work environment, which can all influence your work culture for the better.

It’s essential to address any existing nepotism in the workplace and put rules in place to prevent nepotism moving forward, especially if you want to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace where everyone has a fair chance to thrive and contribute their best. Plus, nepotism can negatively affect the health of your company by:

  • Diminishing meritocracy, where individuals are rewarded based on skills and performance. This can really nosedive employee engagement.
  • Reducing employee morale, which can lead to decreased job satisfaction and higher turnover rates.
  • Impairing team dynamics by making collaboration and trust impossible because of resentment and tension.
  • Stifling innovation and growth by limiting the ideas and perspectives that come from diversifying the workforce.
  • Putting your company at risk for legal and compliance battles that have both reputational and financial consequences.

These consequences are just a sampling of the many reasons there are to avoid nepotism in at your company. Next, let’s talk about solutions to nepotism and favoritism in the workplace.

How to Prevent Nepotism in the Workplace

Now, we’ll explore various strategies and practical tips to ensure that talent shines and nepotism finds no room to undermine professional growth.

  1. Establish Clear Policies and Guidelines

First and foremost, its best to make the rules loud and clear for your coworkers: your organization doesn’t tolerate any forms of nepotism. Make it official with a detailed and comprehensive anti-nepotism policy that both employees and hiring staff have access to. The policy ought to clearly state that employment decisions like hiring, promotion, and compensation are based on merit, qualifications, and performance. A family member or close friend must be evaluated the same as everyone else.

Do your very best to clearly communicate the policy to the whole team so that everyone understands the implications of the policy and where to access it, like in the employee handbook. You could also hold a training session where you reinforce the importance of eliminating nepotism in the workplace. This first step is the best way to set expectations and fortify your company culture so that everyone knows how valuable they are to your organization.

  1. Implement Transparent Recruitment Processes

You are largely responsible for who comes in and goes out of the workplace. You guard that threshold and are often the sole obstacle that prevents nepotism in the hiring process, so make sure you have the tools in place to help you fairly conduct the recruitment process.

First of all, advertise job openings publicly to attract a diverse group of candidates. Instead of relying solely on internal referrals or informal networks, make use of various channels to advertise the position externally. This can include posting the job on the company website, online job boards, social media platforms, industry-specific forums, and professional networking sites. By casting a wide net, you increase the chances of attracting qualified candidates who may not have personal connections within the organization.

This isn’t to say that referrals are a bad thing, but when managing human resources, you still ensure that whoever you hire was just as fairly evaluated and considered as the rest of your candidates. Develop a standardized assessment process that focuses on job-related factors rather than personal connections. This can include using structured interview questions, skills assessments, work samples, or other relevant tests. Standardizing the evaluation process helps ensure consistency and reduces the potential for bias or favoritism in decision-making. 

  1. Ensure Fair Promotion Practices 

Another area where nepotism in the workplace can do some real damage is during promotions, so your HR team needs to be involved in this process as well. Establish clear criteria for promotions that are rooted in performance and other merit-based factors. This makes it easier for not just the decision-makers who offer the promotion but also the employees as they strive to understand what they need to work toward. This is a great way to make the evaluation process objective for both the manager and the employee. 

To help with this, Collect and analyze relevant data, such as promotion rates, performance evaluations, and demographic information, to assess whether promotions are being awarded fairly and equitably.

You can also consider implementing a merit-based evaluation system that uses measurable skills and achievements. Try regularly assessing employee performance using standardized methods, such as 360-degree feedback, performance reviews, or key performance indicators (KPIs) specific for their role. In performance interviews and evaluations, it’s also helpful to encourage open dialogue and provide opportunities for employees to discuss their career goals and development plans.

  1. Encourage Diversity and Equal Opportunity 

One of the most damaging disadvantages of nepotism in the workplace is the lack of diversity in your workforce, which also often means a lack of innovation, new ideas, and different perspectives. Foster a diverse and inclusive work environment so that nepotism is completely out of alignment with your organization’s values and behaviors.

You can do this by actively promoting diversity and inclusion within the organization. Create an inclusive culture that values and respects individuals from different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives. Implement diversity training programs and workshops to raise awareness about unconscious biases and promote a more inclusive mindset among employees. These practices will continually benefit your organization.

  1. Provide Training and Awareness Programs

Finally, don’t expect the managers and employees in your organization to fully grasp what nepotism can do to an organization. Conduct training sessions that educate leaders about the negative consequences so that they better understand how nepotism can undermine meritocracy, decrease employee morale, and hinder organizational performance. Provide real-life examples and case studies to illustrate the detrimental effects of nepotism on individuals and the overall work environment.

You could also incorporate awareness training on fair practices and ethical behavior, which are especially important for decision-makers in your company. This can include sessions on unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion, conflict of interest, and decision-making processes. Help employees recognize their own biases and provide them with tools to make objective and unbiased decisions. Encourage open discussions and provide guidance on navigating situations where personal relationships might intersect with professional responsibilities. By promoting awareness and providing practical guidance, employees can make informed choices that prioritize fairness and equality.

Consider incorporating ethical conduct and fair practices into the onboarding process for new employees, too. This is a good opportunity to communicate the organization's values, code of conduct, and policies related to nepotism and fair employment practices. Reinforce these principles regularly through ongoing training and reminders to ensure they remain top of mind for all employees.

Tips on How to Address Nepotism in the Workplace

What if nepotism currently exists in your organization—what do you do? You can take a proactive approach to creating a better environment with an effective reporting system and seeking feedback from your coworkers.

Establish confidential reporting mechanisms, such as anonymous hotlines or designated contact persons, for team members to report instances of nepotism or perceived favoritism. Ensure that employees feel safe and comfortable voicing their concerns without fear of retaliation. Clearly communicate the availability and purpose of these reporting channels, emphasizing that all reports will be handled discreetly and investigated promptly.

Aside from having a place where employees can report nepotism, you can more actively seek feedback from team members regarding their experiences and concerns related to nepotism. Employee surveys are a great place to start, and by taking their feedback seriously with updates or changes to company policies, you will foster more trust in your work environment.

Prioritize Fairness and Wellness in Your Workplace

By implementing these tips for preventing nepotism in the workplace, organizations can foster a culture of transparency, accountability, fairness, and diversity. By actively addressing and mitigating the influence of nepotism, we can create a more inclusive and equitable workplace where everyone has a fair chance to thrive and contribute their best.

Supporting employees equally can contribute to good organizational culture and overall wellbeing, and protecting your workforce from nepotism is just one piece of the puzzle. Wellhub has a range of wellness apps and other resources that give employees even more tools to be happy and healthy at work. Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to learn more.

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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