Conflict Thesaurus Entry: Nepotism at Work

Conflict is very often the magic sauce for generating tension and turning a ho-hum story into one that rivets readers. As such, every scene should contain a struggle of some kind. Maybe it’s an internal tug-of-war having to do with difficult decisions, morals, or temptations. Or it possibly could come from an external source—other characters, unfortunate circumstances, or the force of nature itself.

It’s our hope that this thesaurus will help you come up with meaningful and fitting conflict options for your stories. Think about what your character wants and how best to block them, then choose a source of conflict that will ramp up the tension in each scene.

Conflict: Nepotism at work

Category: Power struggles, relationship friction, moral dilemmas and temptation, losing an advantage, loss of control, ego

Not getting a promotion because it was given to the boss’s nephew
The office suck-up being given an important or lucrative client
Being forced to train or babysit a new hire with no experience or capability who was given the job because of their connection to the boss
A brown-nosing co-worker being put in charge of the character’s team or project
An unethical co-worker escaping consequences because of their relationship with the boss
Bidding for a job but losing out to someone with a connection to a higher-up
Being ordered to overlook certain things from a preferential client
Legitimately complaining about a co-worker who is friends with an influential person and being punished in some way for doing so
Being reprimanded for a one-time infraction (being late to work, being out of uniform, etc.) that the boss’s son repeatedly does without consequence
The boss’s brother-in-law receiving perks that other employees don’t (a business credit card, a coveted parking space, Yankees tickets, etc.)

Minor Complications:
Morale in the workplace slowly declining
Cliques forming in the office
Being sucked into office politics
Being unable to fully focus on work due to all the drama
The character’s work load increasing because the favored employee is incompetent or lazy
Contempt for the boss dictating the character’s response to him or her

Potentially Disastrous Results:
The character rocking the boat and losing their job or being demoted
Talking to the wrong person about the nepotism and being punished for it
The environment becoming so toxic that the character has to quit and find new work
Responding in a way that compromises the character’s ethics (avenging oneself on the party, spreading rumors about them, etc.)
Speaking out against the favored party and being sabotaged by them
Becoming stuck professionally; not being able to advance
Becoming apathetic and underachieving, believing there’s no point in putting in extra effort

Possible Internal Struggles (Inner Conflict):
Struggling with jealousy, resentment, or even rage
Uncertainty over whether the nepotism is real or imagined
Being tempted to suck up to the boss to gain advancement
Self-doubt setting in as the character wonders if their inability to advance is their own fault
Feeling guilty because the character didn’t say anything, and the favored employee continues to be advanced above other qualified employees
Becoming jaded and seeing favoritism where it doesn’t exist

People Who Could Be Negatively Affected: Co-workers, employees, clients

Resulting Emotions: Agitation, anger, annoyance, betrayed, bitterness, contempt, defiant, desperation, determination, disappointment, discouraged, disillusionment, dissatisfaction, doubt, frustration, indignation, insecurity, intimidated, jealousy, neglected, paranoia, powerlessness, rage, resentment, resignation, unappreciated, uncertainty

Personality Flaws that May Make the Situation Worse: Catty, childish, controlling, devious, hypocritical, inhibited, insecure, martyr, needy, paranoid

Positive Outcomes: 
Helping the new employee learn the business, and that person becoming the character’s ally
Finding the courage to speak out against wrongdoing
Digging deep and becoming even better at the job
Recognizing the unfairness of nepotism and resolving never to be guilty of it

If you’re interested in other conflict options, you can find them here.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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Traci Kenworth
10 months ago

A role that can be beneficial at the right turn.