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It's All Relative: Nepotism at Work Is Alive and Well

A new survey of more than 2,300 British employees finds a whopping 81% think nepotism exists at work, while 61% have either seen it happen or experienced its negative consequences firsthand on the job. Oh, brother!

Even worse, nepotism is trickling down through the average recruiting process, according to the folks at CV-Library who conducted the survey.

Essentially, the modern British workplace sounds like a chapter ripped directly from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. In this modern-day employment scene, employers are Mr. Darcy and every lowly-connected job applicant is Lizzy. The employer loves our resume against their will, their reason -- and even against their character! -- but any alliance between Darcy and Lizzy must be regarded as a highly-reprehensible connection. Sniff. Besides, Mr. Darcy is supposed to hire marry his cousin, so.

What can be done to stem the tide of nepotistic malice at work? CV-Library suggests employers might want to follow India's lead by banning job interviews in favor of...tests and assessments. In other words, hire to the test already!

More than four in 10 British employees surveyed (43%) think hiring to the test sounds like a bloody brilliant idea, while more than half think tests would tell employers a lot more about candidates than conducting an interview.

Hmm. I still think interviews can be quite useful, and a test wouldn't necessarily stop senior managers from hiring their nephew (the word "nepotism" is derived from the Latin for "nephew," fyi) over a slough of better-qualified outsiders.

The real issue here, at least to me, is what such surveys may tell us about the global economy. Here in the United States, we have an economy with a relatively low unemployment rate where competition for jobs is intense. Nobody is safe from nepotism, either. It's an age-old part of the human workplace condition.

Some will make the case that nepotism on the job isn't such a bad thing (no, really!) because it can encourage collaboration and the extension of skill sets. In other words, if you're good at accounting, then your niece is likely pretty good at accounting too, which helps the company perform better over time. So it just makes sense to offer her a job. Just make sure she has the basic accounting skills to pay the bills, or she'll do a number on workplace morale.

It's estimated up to 40% of U.S. companies have formal anti-nepotism workplace policies in place, but current law does not prohibit employers from giving job preference to relatives. It's also been estimated that roughly one-third of Fortune 500 companies are family-owned businesses.

Nepotism smacks of a discriminatory practice -- only those with an "in" are able to win -- and one that deserves greater discussion in the age of NAFTA. As good jobs grow more scarce, how will we make sure the playing field doesn't go completely pear-shaped on candidates lacking top-shelf connections and a good inside game? We talk a good game about meritocracy, but do our hiring practices reflect it? Should there be a hiring cap placed on how many "family and friends" employers may hire in a calendar year to essentially force companies to broaden their range of hiring?

These are very uncomfortable questions nobody wants to talk about, which means we need to talk about them. Please feel free to share your thoughts on nepotism at work. Don't worry, we're all family around here.


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