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How Envy Affects The Workplace – Must Read

Posted by | March 30, 2015 | Graduate Article

Envy is something that we’ve probably all encountered at some point in either our professional or personal lives. Whether it’s someone getting paid more than us or earning the affection of our boss, there are plenty of times when the green eyed monster comes out to play.
It’s easy to believe, therefore, that envy is something that can only ever have negative consequences at work, and there is much to support that perspective.

One study found, for instance, that there are numerous destructive elements to envy in the workplace, with those among us with especially large egos particularly vulnerable.

“Suppose your supervisor gives your coworker a raise and not you, a raise you feel was given for an arbitrary reason,” the research says. “You would be more likely to undermine your co-worker as a means of expressing this hostility.”

The study found that there are generally three things that regularly make us jealous at work:

  1. Being outperformed by a colleague
  2. Does the area of this out performance matter to us?
  3. How near to us is the reference point to the person of which we’re jealous?

So, in other words, jealousy comes into play when a colleague does better than us in a field that is highly important to our self esteem.  All of which seems reasonable enough, but what is the impact of this on the workplace?

A second study explored the impact of jealousy and found it significantly damaged trust levels at work. The impact was particularly strong in workplaces where the culture was more competitive than collaborative. Such a culture often sees employees comparing their own achievements with those of their peers.

The frequency of envy

Sadly, it seems that jealousy is frequently found in the modern workplace. A third study revealed that 58 percent of employees had experienced some circumstances that made them envious of colleagues at work. The authors suggest that this figure is so high because of the social comparison effect. We’re constantly looking for how we compare with our peers, with this status reflected in our pay, our treatment, and ultimately our success at the company.

What’s more, many organisations make a big deal of highlighting the successes enjoyed by people, which makes it incredibly clear who’s doing great things and who is not. This may be wonderful if the spotlight shines on you, but it may have unintended consequences for those who aren’t given a shout out.

The paper recommends that organisations create certain schemas, or rules of thumb if you will. These heuristics should be rules we can all abide by and are created from of our experiences. Thus, the more often certain events reoccur, the more likely they are to develop into schemas, and the harder it becomes for employees to look past this particular version of reality.

The paper concludes by warning how our typical response to such a schema is usually a negative one. We might curse under our breath for instance or spread a malignent rumour about a colleague.

It underlines how important it is that we promote people based upon their merits, and more importantly, that we ensure that all employees feel that such promotions are within their reach too.


Does your workplace suffer from a huge amount of envy or foster a culture of envy? What effect does this have on the staff? Your thoughts and comments below please..

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