Commentary: Workplace poisoned by neoptism

Strong personal ties during the holidays can be a joy. In the workplace, they're a killer.

Exhibit A: The California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. The state auditor last week said that nearly half of the employees surveyed there believed that nepotism has compromised hiring and promotions.

"It completely destroys morale," said an appeals board employee who responded to the survey. "This practice has been going on so long that we are now into the second and third generation of relatives."

The auditor earlier this year sent surveys to the 646 workers at the appeals board, a quasi-judicial agency that rules on unemployment insurance appeals. About 350 responded.

They told the auditor 94 appeals board workers, about 15 percent of the work force, are related to another employee. And that's just immediate family. The survey didn't ask about more distant relations.

Nepotism breaks a fundamental pact between government workers and the public: The public's interest comes first. That means, for example, hiring the best person for a job, even if it means passing over your nephew, boyfriend or drinking buddy.

"Occasionally it was a joke when we saw a job announcement come out and we would say, 'I wonder who they want promoted now?' " one appeals board employee told auditors.

Once the noxious weed takes root in civil service, it's tough to pull out.

To read the complete column, visit The Sacramento Bee.