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Nepotism vs Cronyism: Similarities and Differences

Nepotism vs Cronyism are terms used to denote favoritism to members of one’s family or friends. As humans, favoritism has been part of our existence from time immemorial as it exists at work, within the home, in the different religions in existence, at school, in the marketplace, and in all other places where humans interact. Before we discuss the similarities and differences between nepotism and cronyism, let’s define each term.

See also: Free Enterprise vs Capitalism Differences and Similarities

Nepotism vs cronyism definition

What is nepotism?

Nepotism refers to a situation where individuals favor those who are related to them by blood in times of promotions, awarding contracts, giving jobs, etc. This is often done irrespective of the family member’s qualification or ability to fill a position or carry out the assigned task and often disregards others who are better qualified or suited for the post.

Nepotism is most commonly found in family businesses where the firm’s employees are usually unable to become part of its management despite being qualified whereas family members become a part of the board irrespective of being qualified or not. Historically, the term was associated with the religious field; with Bishops assigning cardinal positions to their nephews. The word itself is driven from the Latin word for nephew, Nepos.

In recent times, nepotism has become a recurring problem even in the public sector such as politics, where political officeholders are seen to favor their relatives whenever employment opportunities arise or promotions are to be implemented. Nepotism often arises from the misuse of one’s power, position, and influence to favor their immediate family and relatives. Hence, it is essentially favoritism towards one’s kin. This generally results in disregard for equity, delayed promotions, injustice, power corruption, inequality, brain drain, etc.

For example, if the governor of a state creates job openings and fills some or all of the available vacancies with their relatives even though they do not have the necessary qualifications, it is nepotism. Additionally, if there are available contracts and the person awarding the contract gives it to a member of their family despite their not having the know-how nor competency to complete the job, it is also nepotism.

What is Cronyism?

Unlike Nepotism which favors one’s family members, cronyism favor one’s friends, buddies, or cronies. In essence, it is a situation where a person who is in a higher position uses their power and influence to favor their friends over others in matters of jobs, promotions, contracts, etc.

Cronyism can be seen at play when a CEO awards a contract to their friend despite the friend’s lack of capacity to deliver the contract as expected. Thus, cronyism often results in unqualified individuals occupying high positions, incompetent people being promoted or assigned jobs that they cannot keep up with, etc.

Nepotism vs Cronyism
Nepotism vs Cronyism differences

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Are nepotism and cronyism illegal?

To the extent that nepotism or cronyism can be proved, they are considered illegal. In the government, nepotism is illegal as noted by a document by the U.S. House of Representatives committee on ethics. In the public and private sectors, nepotism and cronyism are illegal when they involve sexual harassment, breach of a contract, or become discrimination.

In government, the Federal law, 5 U.S. Code 3110, “generally prohibits a federal official, including a Member of Congress, from appointing, promoting, or recommending for appointment or promotion any “relative” of the official to any agency or department over which the official exercises authority or control.

The statute defines a relative, for these purposes, as “an individual who is related to the public official as the father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, or half-sister.”

Many U.S. States have anti-nepotism laws in place, while those who do not, have conflict of interest laws that guide government officials. Every state outlines what relationships count for nepotism, who the law applies to, and the repercussion for breaking the law. Some laws apply to immediate family members such as husbands, wives, and children while others extend to other family members. In all the laws, Cronyism is not clearly spelled out, hence even though it is also illegal in government, not much is discussed about it.

In the public and private sectors, nepotism and cronyism are illegal when they involve sexual harassment, breach of a contract, or become discrimination. Among these, contract breaches seem to be the easiest to prove since documents are available with the contract terms of a person’s employment or engagement in a company. Discrimination and sexual harassment are often harder to prove. However, they do count on making nepotism and cronyism illegal in the workplace.

See also: Free enterprise examples of countries

Similarities between nepotism and cronyism

  1. Both nepotism and cronyism can occur in any field of human endeavor including business, politics, education, entertainment, religion, etc.
  2. Family members or friends are favored irrespective of their level of competence or qualification. Thus, it mostly leads to incompetent or unqualified people filing positions that they often cannot handle and are inefficient in.
  3. Wherever nepotism or cronyism is practiced, it has a negative impact on those who are overlooked despite their being better qualified or more competent than the family members or friends who are favored. This could lead to dissatisfaction among the individuals and their decision to leave the sector or firm. Hence, leading to brain drain and inequality.
  4. Individuals that engage in these acts often do so with ulterior motives of having allies or loyalists in the person or people that have been favored.
  5. Both are unethical practices that promote corruption and create discrimination based on blood ties and friendships.
  6. They are both commonly practiced in both the public and private sectors.

Nepotism vs cronyism differences

  1. The difference between Nepotism and Cronyism is in who gets favored. Nepotism is favoritism shown to kinsmen by assigning privileged positions or responsibilities, awarding contracts, promoting, or employing them. Cronyism is favoritism that benefits friends through recruitment, promotions, contracts, etc.
  2. Nepotism is often used by individuals to elevate their family members within the corporate environment, it is also common in family-run businesses as members of the family are usually the ones that comprise the company’s board or become CEO. On the other hand, cronyism is used to elevate one’s cronies and often to reward their loyalty and friendship.

Table showing the differences between cronyism and nepotism

Comparison criteriaNepotismCronyism
DefinitionThis refers to favoritism towards one’s immediate family members and relatives.This refers to favoritism towards one’s cronies or friends.
ContextIt often occurs in the private sectorIt often occurs in government and public sectors
ExampleWhen a director promotes his son to a higher position although there are better-qualified candidates than him.When a procurement officer awards the contract for the procurement of computers to his friend
Nepotism vs Cronyism differences

See also: What is a Free Enterprise System? Effects and How it works?

Features of Nepotism and Cronyism

  1. Qualifications are often overlooked
  2. Unprofessional behavior
  3. Denial of growth opportunities
  4. Blind loyalty
  5. Greed and selfishness

Qualifications are often overlooked

Individuals that act in nepotism and cronyism usually do not consider the qualifications of their relatives and friends when they offer them jobs, promotions, or any other undue advantage. More often than not, these relatives and friends are underqualified for the role given to them, and others that are more qualified than these are overlooked and their qualifications disregarded.

Unprofessional behavior

Family members and cronies that are beneficiaries of nepotism and cronyism often display unprofessional behaviors towards other members of the team such as disrespecting them or undermining their efforts. They could also have a lackadaisical attitude to their responsibility since they know that they will still be favored irrespective of their input or output on the job. Additionally, showing favoritism to a specific group of people is also unprofessional behavior. This is because the promotion or offer of jobs to people is supposed to be based on merit and competence and not solely based on the relationship individuals have with the person in authority.

Denial of growth opportunities

Since nepotism and cronyism favor just the kinsmen or buddies of the person in charge of the office or organization, the other members of the team will not benefit from any growth opportunities that may arise. This is because once such opportunities open up, only the family and friends are given the chance to take advantage of the opportunity and grow. Hence, all other members of the office remain stagnant.

Blind loyalty

Friends and relatives that have been favored often become blindly loyal to the person that has shown them the favor; because of this, most of them are known to be “yes men” who always agree with what the one who favored them wants. They do not consider whether the decisions made are of benefit or detrimental to the organization or not; all they do is agree with whatever the person wants. Hence those who engage in nepotism and cronyism do so in other to enjoy blind loyalty.

Greed and selfishness

These are the bane of nepotism and cronyism as both those who carry out the act and those who benefit from them are usually selfish and greedy people. They often carry their personal interest above and beyond that of every other person in the sector.

Negative effects of nepotism and cronyism

Let’s take a look at some cons of nepotism and cronyism below:

What are the negative effects of nepotism and cronyism?

  1. Toxic society or workplace
  2. Brain drain
  3. Reduced productivity
  4. Bad Reputation

Toxic society or workplace

Governments and organizations that are prone to nepotism and cronyism are often viewed as toxic. This is because only friends and family of those in high positions get to benefit from any opportunity in the workplace or society.

Brain drain

When people in authority overlook other individuals and tend to always favor their family members and friends, it will result in a brain drain from society or organization. Brain drain occurs when qualified candidates leave a society or organization to that practices nepotism and cronyism to work in a society or organization that ensures justice and equity. As more qualified personnel leave the society or organization, it creates a dearth in the number of qualified individuals that can carry on certain tasks or jobs.

Reduced productivity

Generally, humans want to be appreciated. In the workplace, appreciation often comes in form of bonuses and promotions. However, due to nepotism and cronyism, employees are often not appreciated. This leads to dissatisfaction which often leads to reduced productivity in the workspace. The employees will lack the motivation to carry on with their duties since they already know that only family members and relatives get promoted or appreciated.

Bad Reputation

The practice of nepotism and cronyism gives a bad reputation to the society or organization where it is practiced. This is because these practices are known to condone incompetence and promote bias and favoritism of a particular group of people (family and friends) over others in all situations.

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Both Nepotism and Cronyism in their simplest form involve favoritism, however, they have more similarities which include the damage they tend to cause in places where they are practiced, the promotion of incompetence and corruption as well as the discrimination and marginalization of better-qualified candidates, brain drain, among many other damages they cause. They differ only in the people who are favored, kinsmen or cronies.

Nepotism and cronyism exist in government, public, and private sectors hence the availability of laws to curtail them and ensure they do not become a menace in government or the public sector. Although Nepotism and cronyism exist in the private sector, especially in family-run businesses, once they breach an employee’s contract, or discriminate against an employee, they become illegal.