Nepotism: Wrong for the Workplace? Some managers say nepotism is good for the workplace, because we're hardwired to look after our family and friends. But it conflicts so fundamentally with the basic American values of egalitarianism and merit that some companies have instituted formal anti-nepotism codes.

Nepotism: Wrong for the Workplace?

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Welcome to the program.


INSKEEP: Not true. But in any case, you've studied this and I understand you've had some personal experience with nepotism in places where you've worked.

GILL CORKINDALE: I have indeed. I've worked in quite a lot of newspapers in the U.K., and nepotism is more than a fact of life. It's actually rather endemic. And my own experience was with a young man who just joined the paper and after a few months of helping him adjust to his role, I suddenly found myself in position where he'd become my boss.

INSKEEP: What was the relationship?

CORKINDALE: It was a nephew. It was a nephew of an editor. The rise was effortless and my path was to move into a different career.

INSKEEP: Why is it the right thing to challenge this?

CORKINDALE: Well, I think what was interesting about this blog, this post, was that of all the posts I have written, it seemed to draw the most responses.

INSKEEP: Well, let's mention that, that you wrote about this online.

CORKINDALE: I wrote about this for Harvard Business Online, and the blog is called Nepotism: The Unspoken Rules. What was interesting about this blog, this post, was that of all the posts I've written, it seemed to draw the most responses. The final comments I got and the stream of comments was from somebody who said he really felt that if the son of a boss had been given a job which he was not qualified for, which he didn't really have the experience for, he risked alienating himself among his peers, obviously, and perhaps making a fool of himself. But he might never really learn the rules of work. He might never learn to actually develop your potential to achieve things of your own.

INSKEEP: Now, I suppose this is a difficult subject because there certainly are occupations and professions where the profession just runs in the family, whether you're talking about government service of various kinds, the military, certain kinds of union work, your generations of carpenters. You could think of any number of things where it's just the kind of occupation that people pass down. What's wrong with that?

CORKINDALE: I think where it's different is in business because I believe that should be a meritocracy where people - people train, people take MBAs, they get experience. And I think sometimes for people in business to have these situations where they suddenly find themselves working for the boss's son and not knowing really how to deal with that, that can be extremely difficult.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that in practical terms. Let's say you are working for the boss's son; what are the dos and don'ts?

CORKINDALE: If it's not a sort of relationship where you can have that discussion, your choice, I guess, is to either treat them as you would treat anybody else, or perhaps to try and think about your career and maybe handle them with kid gloves a little bit. I guess that's a personal choice you'd have to make. Do the right thing and jeopardize your career potentially, or manage your career, shall we say, a little bit more effectively.

INSKEEP: Gill Corkindale of Harvard Business Online. Thanks very much.

CORKINDALE: Thank you.

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