How to Help Clients Deal With Nepotism in the Workplace

Image depicting someone jumping to "the head of the line," indicating that nepotism is at play in the workplace.

Have you ever worked for a company where relatives or close friends were treated much differently than staff who had no connection to management? If so, you can probably relate to your clients when they talk about nepotism; career-related favouritism based on an employee’s relationship to those in power at a company. Whether during the hiring process or in day-to-day work life, those with some relationship are often given preferential treatment.

Nepotism is often not taken as seriously as it should be. Its practice can impinge on a firm’s ethics. It can complicate and demean the integrity of workplace policies, business models and strategies, hiring practices, organizational culture, and compensation programs. Our clients who are not on the receiving end of employer favouritism may become frustrated, demotivated, or even angry. They may welcome the support of a trusted career practitioner to help them deal with nepotism at work.

Examples of Nepotism

  • recruiting or promoting a family member or friend instead of another more qualified candidate
  • giving a friend a better, more high profile project
  • offering a bonus to a spouse or other relative instead of to a more deserving employee
  • having different rules or policies for family or friends related to when they can arrive for work, or work from home (when that option isn’t available to everyone)
  • bestowing a prestigious job title on a close relative, without assigning the responsibilities to match

The Reality of Nepotism

Nepotism is a common practice in Canada, especially in family-owned and operated businesses. It is also, apparently, an ongoing issue in the hiring practices of Canadian federal government departments and agencies.

It’s important to note that nepotism is actually legal because no statute or common law exists that makes it illegal. Also, no minimum standards for fairness and transparency in employment exist that would mitigate nepotism.

However, nepotism could be considered discrimination, which is against human rights legislation. Ethical employers have a duty and responsibility to treat all employees and co-workers with respect and without favouritism. Setting productivity expectations, conducting performance reviews, determining compensation, and other critical human resources issues, should be fair and impartial for all employees.

The Repercussions

When an employer favours unqualified relatives and friends for a job, it hinders the progress of competent, high-performing employees. The practice leaves them either frustrated or wanting to resign from the company. In turn, morale and productivity may suffer, resulting in a lacklustre bottom line.

Employers may also, unknowingly, be setting themselves up for a constructive dismissal claim. If an employee’s terms of employment are changed (work hours, position, compensation, etc.) in order to benefit a relative or friend, the employee could resign and file a claim.

Strategies to Deal with Nepotism

Here are seven strategies that we, as career practitioners, can use to advise and support our clients:

  1. Guide them to enhance their emotional intelligence by gauging their emotions and behaviours.
  2. Encourage your client to take note of their accomplishments to stay top of mind with their boss.
  3. Encourage them to document incidences that may show favouritism and communicate with HR or a trusted manager or mentor.
  4. Support your client to integrate wellness into their routine.
  5. If your client is really struggling, guide them through coaching and a strategic action plan, which may include resigning.
  6. Have your client define their values. This will provide clarity and help them decide whether the organization is aligned with their personal guiding principles.
  7. Empower your client. We can all fall into a trap of believing that we don’t have any options. We may think we just have to accept a bad situation for what it is. But when nepotism is making the workplace a toxic environment, your client should be reminded that they do have choices in how they move forward.

The Bottom Line

Many of us have probably encountered nepotism in the workplace. Nepotism is usually considered a negative practice, but like many things, there are pros and cons. It may be hard to believe, but nepotism can actually offer both advantages and disadvantages to both employers and employees. It’s just possible our clients might be surprised and delighted to discover that the son of their company president is a more supportive, progressive boss than their previous manager.

The bottom line is that nepotism exists and will always exist in one form or another. While we can’t change that, there are ways we can deal with it. Before resorting to an impetuous resignation, our clients should be encouraged to carefully think through their actions and plans . The key is to thoughtfully consider their feelings about the situation and remain consistently professional and productive while they evaluate their options – including the option to stay.

For information and strategies on helping your clients deal with nepotism and other workplace scenarios, consider enrolling in CPC courses.

Lori Jazvac is a passionate, award-winning Master Certified Résumé Strategist and Certified Employment Strategist through Career Professionals of Canada. As a multi-certified Master Résumé Writer and Certified Career Transition Coach, she specializes in helping clients navigate challenging career transitions. In 2013, an empowering vision inspired Lori to launch Creative Horizons Communications, a holistic career services firm where she virtually supports jobseekers around the globe to embrace their next career milestone. In her spare time, Lori enjoys dance, blogging, watching comedies and reality shows, yoga, and taking long walks in nature.

Conny Lee is a Certified Holistic Narrative Career Practitioner, Online Business Manager for coaches, Certified Career (CCS), Employment (CES), and Résumé Strategist (CRS), Trauma of Money Facilitator, and Sacred Money Archetypes® Coach. She focuses on supporting people to create the career, business, and life they truly desire and love. To learn more, visit Conny’s website at When she isn’t working, Conny enjoys reading, listening, learning anything related to personal development, spending time with her family, and working out.











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