|Should nepotism be tolerated?|
|Monday, 11 June 2012 20:41|
Nepotism is one of the varied manifestations of corruption. Along with its cousins: bribery, embezzlement, fraud and extortion, abuse of discretion, intimidation, kickbacks, and patronage, nepotism is regarded as petty corruption.
This is in comparison with grand corruption, which involves high-profile public and private sector cases, where perpetrators actually change standards around people and systems. Nepotism is practiced on a day to day basis and in all walks of life. It typically involves abuse of public office for personal gain.
Nepotism, coming from the Italian word for nephew, covers favouritism to members of the family. It involves preferential treatment or favour granted to relatives or friends, with no regard to merit. Nepotism can happen at home, school, college, politics and even in workplaces.
Preferential treatment is always pleasing to one who receives it, but repulsive to those discriminated against. Like many forms of discrimination, nepotism is against the law. Nepotism is also embedded on a sense of social and political responsibility.
The other motivation of nepotism is of a strategic nature, where perpetrators may decide to build up a critical mass within an organisation, of family loyalists, for strategic support and protection.
Starting from family situations, mothers and fathers have their favourite sons and daughters, giving rise to sibling rivalry. Older siblings favour younger ones who do not divulge secrets.
In schools or colleges, teachers and lecturers give preferences to their favourite students who might either be their relative or related through some means. Students who perform, cannot tolerate such kind of favouritism.
Every employee needs to be appreciated for their work performance, but when preferential treatment is accorded to some employees without merit, other employees become disgruntled. In fact, favouring one employee over another reduces morale, increases employee turnover and slows down career advancement.
It also instills the sense in employees that it doesn’t matter how one performs on the job, what really matters are the extents to which the superior favours them. As well, it is this favouritism that determines perks and promotions one receives.
Nepotism in workplaces is rampant, yet many pretend that it does not exist in their organisations. Family owned businesses are different, business owners are forthright about nepotism within their enterprises. For instance one Harare business owner said he gives preference to his relatives when recruiting, because it is his social responsibility to ensure that unemployment and poverty among his relations is reduced. It is a different game altogether when it comes to public entities or enterprises.
Though often carried out covertly in public enterprises, it is possible to piece together incidents of nepotism within organisations. There are some who brag about these preferential treatments at workplaces. In worst cases, favoured employees perform dismally or even set their own work timetable.
Nepotism has reduced the organisational systems to “whom you know, rather than what you know”. They can cause a drop in commitment level of the employees, dissatisfaction in the company and ultimate decision to move on from the present organisation. In fact some people do not even bother to seek employment, preferring instead self-employment rather than face discrimination through nepotism.
Systems based on personalities are not fair or sustainable. For instance, an orphan, but gifted student in Binga or some other far-off place in Zimbabwe, may never get an opportunity to work in large organisations based in Harare, because they do not know anybody in the system to give them preferential treatment and favour.
Society, itself, places a demand on executives to practice nepotism when in office, be it in private or public sectors. It even penalises those who do not give preferential treatment to friends and relatives.
In an era where social networking is the order of day, how are those outside the network catered for? How can executives be assisted to balance business practices and social responsibilities in families, without falling into the corruption trap?
One executive, narrated how someone from his poor home area, simply favoured and selected him ahead of some better deserving recruits, for a management trainee programme, back in the 1980s.
This executive described how grateful he was for this favour, and he made it his chief aim to prove that he was worth the favour.
Which he consistently did and was recognised and received many promotions, this time on pure merit. He rose to become the chief executive of the company, which he attributes to the preferential treatment accorded to him by his “home boy”.
These are the good intentions that pave the corridors of nepotism. Unmerited favour is also called grace and it is welcomed by all.
Nepotism is sometimes based on grace. In this we see the ambiguity of petty corruption, which makes it difficult for perpetrators to see the wrong in these small acts.
More so, when people believe that it is a social responsibility to give unmerited favour, here and there. Is it wrong then to classify nepotism as a form of corruption? Is there good nepotism? When is it good and where does it start to be wrong? The law should provide clearer guidelines.
Social responsibility is best when conducted in fairness. Otherwise the disadvantaged wait for their turn to retaliate. In this way, systems are built around personalities, each seeking to right previous wrongs and society remains trapped in poverty.
Nepotism can be avoided and replaced with fairer systems. In corporate governance, we see the “old boys’ networks” being replaced by “new boys” and ladies, based on merit not social networks. Meritocracy allows for many to sit on boards previously reserved for a few elites. Any form of discrimination creates agitation. “New boys” always lie in wait to replace discriminatory systems with fair ones.
Short termism in systems based on personalities, is a challenge to good governance posed by nepotism. Good governance aims at building sustainable systems, which are fair, to as many people as possible. Merit, not just academic but experience and other selection criteria, need to be transparent.
I was recently turned down for a consultancy assignment in an upcoming governance project. The organisation clearly highlighted my shortcomings and why I was not suitable for that particular assignment. I was satisfied, though I did not get the job.
That is what transparency does, it leaves even the unsuccessful, happy. Nepotism, on the other hand leaves even those favoured by it, not sure if they can do the job.
Infringing the rights of the employees is to make employment decisions based on other unrelated things and not work-related reasons such as their skills, competence and experience.
If there is fairness and equality in a system, employers can expect to earn their workers’ loyalty and dedication. It should also be remembered that work not jobs is what will get us out of poverty.
A fair system encourages people to be creative and to work hard. Creating opportunities for all creates sustainability.
l The writer is a researcher and consultant in governance.