Word to the Expert
“Nepotism” is defined as “the act of offering special advantages and privileges to friends and relatives, using your personal influence in an abusive manner.”
“Meritocracy” is defined as “1. A system in which talented persons are chosen to be promoted based on their good work results; 2. A management team chosen to have this function using intellectual criteria.”
For many years the hiring process in Romania had a simple critical criterion: you had to be the wife/son/daughter/nephew and so on of a person working in the institution or company you wanted to get the job in, and that was enough to get through the whole recruitment process successfully. Too often other personal skills did not matter. Then, starting with 1990, after the revolution – when the communist government fell – things started, slowly but surely, to change. Multinationals invaded the market and brought with them a refreshing perspective on many things, starting with recruitment and finishing with training and retention. And this is how “meritocracy” started to be talked about and valued, especially by young employees and managers who were craving the opportunity to prove themselves by working, not by marrying. Being employed in an institution or company where nepotism is highly prevalent, especially in high-level positions, can be one of the most frustrating professional experiences an employee can have. Imagine how is it to work as the subordinate of a top manager’s wife who is completely incompetent and lazy – you have to do all the work and she gets the pay rise and the praise for your work. I have witnessed this and it is no fun at all; it is a cause of high levels of turnover. No matter how good the intentions of the hiring manager are, nepotism has, in my view, an almost exclusively negative impact on the organization, on employees’ performance and motivation, and on general productivity levels. Nepotism is not good for anyone – neither the company or the team, or for the hired relative (not even when he/she deserved the job and performs well). The only advantage I can think of is when an HR team is under extreme pressure to hire someone with a specific profile and nepotism can save the day. Applied cautiously, it can help to bring valuable people into the company. In Europe there are no specific laws to help employees or candidates who feel unjustly treated to assert their rights, but some companies have implemented policies to reduce the negative impact of nepotism while still allowing it. If smartly applied, nepotism can become a source of good candidates without negative implications, but it is still not a recommended HR policy. Unfortunately, in public institutions in small towns and also in a couple of major companies in some parts of the world nepotism is still the main criterion for hiring, promoting and rewarding employees, and it will take years to change this to match the standards of western European countries.
Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Fall 2014