You’re in a meeting at work when it’s announced that one of your colleagues has been promoted. They have a new, important title (and you’re guessing a bigger salary too).
How do you feel? Are you excited for your coworker? Or is there a little voice in your head saying, “Psst! You want that! How dare they get promoted over you!”? Maybe you’re experiencing a little bit of both?
Rest assured that all of those emotions are completely normal—yes, even then envious ones. Jealousy at work is bound to occur in your professional life at some point or another. Here are a few statistics that prove just how common and prevalent it is:
The gist of this theory is that we match ourselves up against other people (such as our coworkers) to understand how we’re doing, and our perception of that comparison directly impacts our self-image. So, when your colleague gets promoted, it’s hard not to view their success as your personal failure.
Jealousy isn’t inherently bad. However, it’s important to recognize when it’s happening in the workplace so that you can handle it appropriately—whether that means managing your own emotions when you realize you’re feeling jealous, successfully working with a colleague who is demonstrating envious behaviors, or managing envy on a team you’re leading.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few signs of jealousy at work:
Have you noticed some of these indicators on your team? With a specific coworker? Or maybe even within yourself? Well, jealousy could be creeping in. Don’t worry—we’ll talk about how to deal with it in a little bit.
A certain amount of jealousy in the workplace is normal. However, not all jealousy is created equal. That’s right—there are actually two different kinds of jealous feelings:
This distinction is important, because understanding whether career jealousy is a good thing or a bad thing isn’t necessarily black and white.
In general, benign envy can actually be a positive thing at work. Seeing somebody else achieve a goal can inspire us to take our own steps forward. Studies show that benign envy is related to motivation. So, if you can figure out how to use those feelings to light a fire under yourself, it can actually be a positive motivator in your work life.
It’s malicious envy where things take a turn for the worse. Those feelings are not only negative, but almost always counterproductive. They can cause you to behave badly, upset the team dynamic, and damage your relationships with the people you work with.
Exactly how you address jealous feelings will depend on who’s involved—if you’re the one feeling jealous, if a colleague is demonstrating jealous behaviors toward you, or if you’re a leader who notices that jealousy is running rampant on your team.
Regardless of the specific dynamics and the role you play in them, there are a few tips that can be helpful for dealing with jealousy at work.
In order to manage jealousy effectively, you need to understand it. That requires you to dig deeper than your surface-level grasp on your emotions.
Something called “the five whys” can be helpful here. While it’s frequently used as a problem solving technique, it’s also effective for pushing you to understand the undercurrent of your own emotions. It’s simple: you ask “why” five times.
Let’s break it down using the example we’ve leaned on a few times: a coworker landed a promotion over you. Here’s what this thought process might look like:
“I feel jealous of my coworker’s promotion.”
“I wanted that promotion.”
“I want to move up the ladder.”
“It’s important that I advance in my career.”
“I want to keep picking up new skills and experiences.”
“I’m worried about getting stuck.”
That simple exercise revealed something powerful: Your jealous feelings aren’t occurring simply because you wanted that promotion, but because you have a fear of stagnating in your own career.
Now there’s a lot you could do with that deeper piece of information. You could pursue continuing education and other professional development opportunities. You could toss your hat in the ring for new, challenging projects. You could explore other areas of the business. All the while, you’re proving to yourself that the promotion wasn’t the be-all-end-all.
Pretty helpful, right? You can use this type of exercise with yourself, or even facilitate it with a group that’s experiencing conflict.
Jealousy runs rampant on teams that are highly-competitive. It feels like people are constantly one-upping each other, and that breeds envy when somebody else achieves something.
To combat against this, it’s helpful to prioritize candid and intentional communication—not just about wins and accomplishments, but about challenges, disappointments, and concerns.
This helps you and other team members to view each other as fellow humans, rather than names you’re in a race against. Plus, this level of transparency helps to build psychological safety on a team so that people feel comfortable chasing big goals and ideas without the fear of failure or reprimands.
Many times, jealousy can be effectively managed personally or between two colleagues. But sometimes, things escalate to a point further steps need to be taken. This could include:
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t reach that sort of boiling point. However, when jealousy is causing a lot of conflict, disagreement, tension, and negative behavior, it needs to be taken seriously and addressed appropriately.
When 27% of employees say they’ve witnessed conflicts lead to personal attacks and another 25% have seen conflict result in sickness or absence, it’s important to understand when jealousy at work is no longer a normal workplace emotion and has snowballed into something far more toxic. At that point, it’s time to take more serious action.
Have you experienced jealous feelings at work? Noticed jealous behaviors from one of your coworkers? Or seen envy brewing between some of your direct reports?
Well, that’s completely normal. And, jealousy at work isn’t inherently bad. In fact, the right kind of jealousy can actually be productive and motivating.
The key is to recognize the type of jealousy you’re dealing with and then manage it appropriately. Do that, and those seemingly negative feelings can be turned into a positive that gives your career and your team a major boost.
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