Envy in the Workplace

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on Mar 16, 2011 in , , | No Comments

We’ve all seen it at the office…and it’s not pretty.

Coworkers “green with envy” can create a corrosive environment for all when they unleash their unhappiness.

Often envy is denied by most people, and in order to squelch this green-eyed monster, we must take a look at it face to face. According to Judith Sills, PhD., “Most often, it (envy) stalks the office as a sense of unfairness.” Sills believes that envy wears many disguises in the office, “It can be an invisible destructive force.”

Envy derives from a mix of emotional insecurity, competitiveness, and dissatisfaction with a situation. Couple that with Sills’ four factors that favor envy flourishing in an office setting: a highly competitive workplace culture, an out of touch boss, favoritism in family of origin, and exceptional achievement–which seems to anger everyone that is not achieving–and you have a situation ripe with envy.

The Four Factors

Looking at the first of the four factors, a highly competitive workplace culture, you can see where this type of environment is a breeding ground for envy. Some employers have set up employees to be in this situation, while in other situations, employees themselves have become the instigators. No matter what the scenario, it’s a losing situation, becoming an opportunity for nasty interactions between coworkers.

The next factor is the out of touch boss. This is a person who plays favorites, has a clique, loves what brown-nosing employees throw his/her way, and creates a very uncomfortable environment. This sets employees (who are not in the bosses circle) up for demoralization and work standards that are not equally applied.

The “office family”, not unlike our own family of origin, can bring up painful memories from childhood. If you were not the favored child in your household, you may find that resentment carried into the workplace. Here is where it’s important to approach office situations with the clearest of intentions, not allowing perceptions–instead of facts–cloud your vision. If favoritism is present in the office, old feelings from childhood will visit you once again. Some snipe behind the backs of those benefiting from the favoritism, while others try to “win favoritism” by working harder, fawning over the boss, or taking on a high profile project. Which leads me to the last of the four factors, exceptional achievement.

Unfortunately, many workers envy those among them who are high achievers. I’ve seen a well-deserving teacher awarded “Teacher of the Year”, only to be shot down by jealous colleagues with hurtful remarks questioning her abilities. These people, who envy another persons hard work and achievement, usually feel unhappy and insecure within themselves. Instead of being happy for their coworker, they feel as if the one succeeding is a traitor, “showing us up”.

Those Who Are Envied

Workers who are envied for their accomplishments have a difficult road to travel. They can be ignored, shunned, and even belittled by their envious colleagues. Perhaps even forced out of their position by hostility. Downplaying any type of accolade somehow can take away from what one has accomplished, while gloating over it will bring even more suffering. This type of work environment does not foster people reaching to do their best, but rather people looking over their shoulders, concerned with retaliation for succeeding.

While those envied for being within the bosses fold of “special ones” seem to care less what others may think, relishing their position, sooner or later they may find themselves without that protection.

How to Spot Envy

In order to fully look at envy, first see if it is in you. Dr. Sills gives six ways to flush out your own green-eyed monster:

1) Do you avoid cooperation because you don’t want others to benefit?

2) Is there something you just don’t like about another coworker, but can’t put it into words?

3) Are you critical of traits in a colleague that did not formerly bother you?

4) Are you saying horrible things about a coworker who has recently experienced success?

5) Do you point out someone’s success is due to their privileges?

6) Do you feel picked on, burdened, think others always get the breaks?

If you’ve answered yes to any one of these questions, now you have the evidence that you need to begin to change. Getting rid of envy within yourself will free you up to be authentic in the workplace, whereby teaching others a more productive way of being. Now you can compliment the successful colleague, lend support to another, and not tear down someone else.

Changing the Workplace

Beginning with your own attitude, start to bring more camaraderie to your workplace. When a colleague succeeds, be the first to sincerely congratulate them. If someone makes a snide remark about another worker, don’t counter it with an affirmative reply. Rather, take this opportunity to show you aren’t as insecure as the one making the comment.

Just imagine being in a workplace where your accomplishments are celebrated–by all. Where there are no backstabbers, naysayers, or “green-eyed monsters” to hold you back from achieving your dreams. Where childhood hurts are left in the past, where they belong, and we see with clear vision. And where all bosses refrain from favoritism, foster working environments that are productive and pleasant for every employee. It’s possible, it just takes a little effort.