Jealousy in the Workplace: When Competition becomes Negative

A degree of competition in the workplace keeps employees at the top of their game. But when the battle for a promotion, and the extra green that comes with it, leads to eyes green with envy, the result can be disruptive.

Envy harms the one who feels it as well as disrupting teams and weakens organizational performance. Productivity, morale and collaboration can be casualties if resentments are allowed to simmer.

Workers and managers can play a crucial role in tamping down the emotions that turn colleagues into bitter rivals. 

Research conducted by Harvard Business Review found one way to squelch envy is by reminding yourself of your own strengths and accomplishments.

During one exercise, managers were asked to evaluate a rival’s latest idea and how much time at work they would devote to learning more about the concept. Before the exercise, half of the managers noted their own accomplishments or cherished values. Managers who affirmed themselves were willing to spent 60 percent more time at work learning about their rival’s ideas compared to the managers who did not affirm themselves.

The following tips can also help employees keep jealousy at bay: 

Make jealousy work for you

Envy is natural. But instead of channeling the emotion in a negative direction, use it as motivational fuel. If your coworker gets the promotion you seek, don’t throw a pity party.  Consider this a time for self-evaluation and ask yourself: How can I step up my game?

Keep successful colleagues close

Study their work habits, their workplace manner, how they dress and carry themselves and how they interact with their superiors. Ask them for advice. What works for them may work for you.

Be humble in victory, gracious in defeat.

A sore winner is no more appealing than a sore loser. Be a willing mentor or protege, and always strive to be a congenial colleague. A workplace riven with egotism, resentments and personality clashes is doomed to underperform. Help set the tone.

There is no “green” in team

And there are no “stars” in a losing organization. Think of your coworkers as teammates and rally them to be part of a supportive, nurturing environment that creates a roomful of stars. The workplace that works well together, wins together.

Don’t be a toady

Every workplace has its share of people who think the way to the top is by ingratiating oneself to the boss. If you make it on the merits, you’re likely to attract respect instead of resentment.

Be your best self

Acting on your insecurity and jealousy in the workplace is not a good look. Displays of immaturity are not a ticket to future advancement. Learn to employ a “game face” regardless of any setbacks or inner turmoil. Keep your emotions in check.

Be passion-appropriate

It’s OK, even welcome, to be passionate about your work. But displays of ardor unrelated to the job can sink your career, especially if they cross the line into harassment. Be discreet about office romances.

Managers can help create a positive environment for themselves and their employees by following these practical tips:

Don’t succumb to flattery

Sycophancy may be music to your ears, but it creates discordance within the workplace. The worker whose primary skill is currying favor is likely masking his or her deficiencies as a productive employee. To the extent you embrace and promote lackeys, you risk losing the respect of your workforce.

Don’t play favorites

Remember, you’re the boss of everyone, not just a few chosen cronies. Employees notice when you walk by their desk without acknowledging them on your way to chat up their colleagues. They notice even more when those same colleagues leapfrog them on the way to raises or promotions. The seeds of jealousy are often planted by those at the top. Cultivate an environment of fairness.

Manage competition fairly.  To the greatest extent possible, post every job opportunity and provide a level playing field for your employees to compete. You may have someone in mind for a promotion, but stay open throughout the process—you might find yourself surprised by the outcome.

Value character

Learn to spot the entitled, the disgruntled and the back-biters. Head off problems by avoiding narcissistic, insecure or toxic personalities in your hiring. Seek out team players who possess maturity, confidence and the skills to back it up.

Managing a workplace balance between competitiveness and ruthlessness can be tricky. Cultivating fairness, respect and self-discipline are the key. Managers and employees each have a role in creating an environment where everyone’s ambitions can flourish without emotions erupting into something mean and green. 


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