Stepmoms of the corporate world


Step-motherly treatment or subconscious discrimination is not just common in families but in the corporate world too. Let’s judge a fictitious corporate situation and decide who is at fault. 

Once upon a time, there was a happy family of three — Aatmaram, Anuradha and their five-year old son, Anurag. Though Anuradha was Anurag’s stepmother, there wasn’t any discomfort or lack of love between the two. Anuradha took good care of Anurag till he was 13.

However, the addition of a new member to the family changed the scenario. Anuradha and Aatmaram had a son when Anurag was 13. For obvious reasons, Anuradha showered all her attention and love on her new baby, Siddharth.

This brought in a radical change in Anurag’s behaviour. He felt neglected and the fact that he couldn’t share his feelings with anyone else turned the situation from bad to worse. Even when he confided in his close friends or a family member, he got mixed responses and that left him in a more confused state.

Further complexities in the relationship led Anurag to feel isolated and dejected. There came a situation when Anurag was so full of pessimism that he changed from an energetic extrovert to an inclusive introvert.

Such step-motherly treatment is not just seen in families but also in the corporate world. Let’s take the case of Mohan, who works as a senior manager in the brand and marketing department of a large FMCG company. He has four members in his team.

Mohan is an efficient leader and knows how to get the work done by his team. He is known to delegate responsibilities, allow his team to take independent decisions and offer his extended support. This keeps his team motivated and he and his team impress everyone with their performance for three years.

One fine day, Mohan manages to get a high performer from a rival company. His seniors are happy because this is a prized catch for that role.

Mohan introduces Abhimanyu to his existing team and urges them to extend their full support to the new team member, and everyone obliges.

Days pass and Abhimanyu gels with the team pretty well. He also turns out to be a high performer as expected.

Mohan too is quite impressed with Abhimanyu and continues giving him more and more importance. Initially, his other team members ignore this, but eventually, they start noticing Mohan’s growing attention and dependency on Abhimanyu.

Then a situation arises when Abhimanyu takes the lead in all external communication while the other team members become just a part of the support system.

This, for obvious reasons, leads to a discontentment among the other team members while Abhimanyu is getting all the glory.

Unfortunately, Mohan never realises that he has started acting like a ‘stepmom’ by feeding only one child and neglecting the other four.

Finally, the day of team evaluation arrives and Mohan sees that his team has performed better than the previous years. But it’s here that he makes a blunder. He goes full hog in praising the new team member while ignoring the efforts put in by the others.

This is like the last nail in the coffin. The older team members are highly demotivated and eventually start pulling themselves away from work.

Abhimanyu is left with no support from his colleagues and has to fight alone to achieve the desired results.

Meanwhile, two of the team members call it quits while the other two are on the lookout for a better job.

The following year, as expected, there is a massive dip in Mohan’s team performance and Mohan fails to understand what went wrong.

Now who is to be blamed for this entire mishap? Is it Mohan, Abhimanyu or the other four team members?

Do put in your comments!

(The author is HR Manager at Godrej and Boyce.)


  1. I believe that it is a collaborative approach. Though Mohan is a team leader and maximum responsibility lies on him to ensure that all the team members are getting equal attention and due appreciation and recognition for their efforts. He should have provided fair developmental opportunity to all of them with regular interaction and feedback. The onus equally lies on the team members too as Mohan has been their manager for long and they were quite happy and comfortable with him. They are not like 13 years old kid who doesn’t understand the sensitivity and complexities of the relationship/ situation and keep looking for comfort in others. They are matured people and could have put across their concerns directly to their leader.

    Here, company (HR) too need to be proactive by sending right and friendly message to all about the new employee background, achievements and current responsibility. They should have timely raised the alarm on deteriorating performance of other team members.

  2. Its true that step motherly treatment is common for back office staff popularly known as support staff. Those who are extrovert always get maximum attention as humans naturally drawn towards everything that glitters like oasis or mirage. Though theoretically team leader need to know importance of both but people in back office and introverts are truly most neglected by companies.

  3. A balanced approach post bringing in a ‘hi-performer’ is key to the team’s success. In this case, Mohan ‘forgot’ to weigh the the fact that it was his team together who carried it forward and not just one Abhimanyu. The instant downside was losing two teammates & a critical loss of morale. Abhimanyu got stuck in the ‘chakravyuh’ so to speak! 🙂

  4. One more wonderful article from you Vivek! Again you could relate the real life problems with corporate life. Good job!

  5. Nice article ! And quite apt for our time where everyone jumps to the new job and the team leaders r still not trained enough to handle the dynamics at play.
    Great going Vivek! Looking forward for more

  6. Loved your perspective and the manner in which you have highlighted it through interesting and practical examples.
    Looking forward to more articles!!

  7. Common scenario in corporate world which is ignored erroneously by all supervisors this scenario becomes a trigger for attrition and hampers employee morale which ultimately affects productivity.Always better to have bench strength rather than depending on few individuals.A thought provoking topic for all supervisor which needs immediate retrospection before its too late
    Continue the good work Vivek …….

  8. Obviously its Mohan to be blamed. He cannot forget people who where in the department for years supporting him and give all the key responsibilities to a new comer. He is not a leader! Secondly, Abhimanyu is also at fault..even though he being a new comer..his team is supporting him and helping him achieve the goals..its his responsibility to take care of them…motivate them….rather than neglecting them.So here people are busy driving the car without any check on the fuel ( employees). Good work Vivek!

  9. Nice Article Vivek! A manager can make or break his team members. Any manager who is biased and does not believe in concepts like fairness at work place gives birth to discontentment and frustration. Managers really need to be more mature in their dealing as they are dealing with people and not machines! A good treatment motivates an employee to perform at his best, whereas a bad, rude or partial treatment can be very demotivating for any employee.

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