Merit alone does not always guarantee access to a job, and too often what really matters is knowing or not knowing someone related to the organization or project in question . When jobs are scarce and unemployment soars, as has happened in many countries during the last global financial crisis, there is even more reason to consider the repercussions that the practice of nepotism can have on the workplace.

Because what is clear is that someone who gets a job because they know someone is getting a benefit: they go from not having a job for which they may not be qualified to having one without going through too many selection filters. But it is possible that the practice of “plugging in” also has a negative effect on the beneficiary. A kind of consideration that is more difficult to detect than the positive aspect of earning a job with little effort.

Stigmatization through the plugs

A group of psychologists from Butler University have published an article in the Journal of Business and Psychology which presents evidence about the strong social stigma carried by people who have been selected for a position because of nepotism. Specifically, people who access a job because they are someone’s relative are not only judged negatively for having taken advantage of their special contacts, but are perceived as less capable of doing their job .


The researchers focused on analysing the responses given by 191 business students. The members of this group of volunteers had to imagine themselves as workers in a bank where their boss had not yet been selected and then read information about three applications for that job. Two of these candidates were always the same: one well-qualified profile that met the requirements for the vacancy and another clearly under-qualified one. The third application, which was for the person who was finally hired, varied between three levels of qualification.

In some cases, this candidate was better qualified than the other two candidates, but in others he or she was at the same level as the “strong” candidate of the previous two, or was a little below. In any of these three possibilities, the third candidate met the minimum requirements for the position. However, half of the volunteers were informed that this candidacy, the one chosen, was that of a close relative of the vice-president .

Having gone through this phase, the volunteers had to fill out questionnaires in which they evaluated the person chosen to be their superior in factors such as their level of competence, luck, skill and political ability.

Things of karma

The results show how the people chosen are significantly less valued when there are signs of nepotism . In fact, in the three degrees of qualification that the third candidate could present, he or she was always valued less than the candidate who had been chosen on merit. Students assumed that this person had been chosen basically because of his or her family ties, regardless of his or her level of ability as reflected in his or her curriculum vitae. Thus, the selected persons were evaluated as if they lacked all the typical characteristics that are usually associated with good managers , regardless of whether the person chosen on the basis of “plugging” was male or female.

In this way, even people who, from the professional and academic information available, seemed well prepared for the position were perceived as not very capable. Paradoxically, the type of stigmatization seen in the study could make it more difficult for people chosen for their connections to do their jobs because of the type of work climate they inoculate in the organization. It could also make it difficult for them to move beyond the influences of their employer.

Bibliographic references:

  • Padgett, M. Y., Padgett, R. J., and Morris, K. A. (2014). Perceptions of Nepotism Beneficiaries: The Hidden Price of Using a Family Connection to Obtain a Job. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30(2), pp. 283-298.