November 1, 2012
Nepotism can have advantages and disadvantages. For example, hiring relatives is easy and can lead to greater trust (what we call “swift trust”) if the relations get along and share a common purpose. Where nepotism becomes problematic is when non-relative employees feel that there is unfair favoritism, and when relatives are hired over more competent non-relatives. Unfortunately, there has been very little research on nepotism in the workplace.
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Our research program is among the first investigating people’s perceptions of nepotistic practices in the workplace. For example, we have found that there are individual differences in perceptions of nepotism, with some people being accepting of nepotistic practices – thinking it is perfectly fine to have preferential treatment of relatives (“well, she is the boss’s daughter…”), and others completely rejecting of any sort of favoritism.
What we are finding, however, is that people tend to believe that there is favoritism whenever a relative is hired, regardless of whether they tolerate nepotism or not. Even when a relative is the most qualified person for the job, coworkers tend to believe that it was their family relationship, rather than their qualifications, that got the person the job.
What we intend to examine next is the impact that perceptions of nepotism may have on employee performance, motivation, and decisions to stay with the company.
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