The research from recruitment software firm Applied found men and younger workers are most likely to benefit. Almost half of men and over two thirds of Gen Z workers have gained a job or offer through a personal connection.
When asked if they would take advantage of a personal connection to advance their career, 77% of workers across all age groups said they would.
More on nepotism:
John Palmer, senior advisor at employment advice service Acas, said nepotism is likely to limit or damage companies' recruitment and retention.
Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “If the recruitment process favours personal connections rather than experience and skill level employers are unlikely to recruit the best candidates.
“Nepotism in the recruitment process can also incur additional costs down the line if the most suitable candidate is not initially recruited.”
Palmer also said nepotism throws up diversity and inclusion concerns.
Almost half of men (48%) surveyed said they had gained a job (or job offer) through a personal connection, compared with just over a third (36%) of women.
Palmer said: “Nepotism is also likely to reduce or prevent people from certain groups or protected characteristics from being recruited, increasing the risk of legal action against the employer.
“Fair, inclusive and open recruitment based on merit will always be the most effective method for any company.”
Gen Z respondents were most likely to feel morally conflicted about this and 60% of 18–24-year-olds said they disagree with leveraging personal connections to land jobs “on principle” and don’t think it is “fair”, compared with less than half (41%) of over-55s.
Despite two in five workers benefiting from nepotism at some point during their careers, just over a quarter (27%) of respondents overall said they’d feel “uncomfortable” telling colleagues or friends they’d landed a job after being personally referred to an employer.
Terry Payne, global managing director of recruitment agency Aspire, said it is employers that should be held accountable for this problem.
Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “I wouldn’t blame individuals, but the employer or the person opening that door should think carefully about doing so. It’s important to strip away the personal relationship and ask if that individual is right for the job.”
He said nepotism has a negative effect on both employers and employees.
“Nepotism results in people getting jobs and opportunities because they were born in the right family, sent to the right school or spend time in the right circles.
“On the other hand, nepotism can have a major impact on the quality of the hire. It can flush out quality candidates through nothing else but bias and also severely affect the diversity of an organisation.”
Payne said it is essential robust recruitment practices are in place to guard against this: “The job should be advertised like any other job, with anyone – irrespective of personal ties – able to apply.
“I would also argue that the person or people holding a relationship with the candidate shouldn’t be the sole decision-maker in whether they get the job. You need other voices in the room to ensure the candidate isn’t given preferential treatment.”