[October 6, 2019] The U.S. military employs many civilians who act as institutional knowledge and possess a host of crucial skills our warriors need. Sometimes, however, like in any large organization, there are some folks in the military business that do not to adapt to our core values. One of my commanders told me about a senior civilian who was showing preferential treatment to several other civilians.
“To show partiality is not good – yet a person will do wrong for a piece of bread.” – the Bible, Proverbs 28:21, New International Version
The senior civilian, it turns out, was part of an exclusive country club, and several civilian staff employees were also members. Those who were part of the club were given special treatment in the way of monetary bonuses, faster pay rate increases, and awards. Doing so was not based on performance (hard work, ethical behavior, reliability, etc.) but upon membership.
What I didn’t realize, when given the job to put an end to the improper preferential treatment, was that the organization had a long history of partiality. In addition, military commanders in the past had turned a blind eye to preferential treatment.
Preferential treatment has serious negative consequences. It hurts teamwork, work performance, competition, morale, and good communication flow. Leaders should be aware that, according to several workplace studies, nearly half of all workplaces will experience significant preferential treatment. Of course, this is not good news, and it remains incumbent upon leaders to take quick action to correct such behavior.
Military organizations with a culture of preferential treatment are particularly difficult to cure. Unlike commercial activities that will lose customers and money if not corrected, the military has a steady funding stream. Commander attention and intervention in military units is a duty and moral requirement.
When military officers set out to uncover and stop preferential treatment, they, themselves, can become a target of unscrupulous employees (who thoroughly understand the military rewards and punishment system). Many of those officers have been improperly accused of favoritism, sexism, racism, etc. to throw them off mission. Good leaders, however, will not stop.
Leaders who demonstrate the moral courage to end unfair treatment of their employees are needed now more than ever.