Dealing with Envy and Jealousy at Work

Most of us have had feelings of jealousy or envy in our lives, but nowhere may it be more difficult to deal with than in the workplace.

Of course you’re supposed to wish Jim well on his new promotion – even though you worked hard for it and you believe Jim is a slacker. And, well, sure you’d like to be friendlier to your colleague Maggie, but she’s so darned organized it gives you a headache, especially when the boss is always giving her an award for it.

No one likes to admit they’re jealous or envious of a co-worker. After all, didn’t we leave such petty feelings behind on the playground? Or at least reserve them for the skinny woman who lives next door and can eat anything she wants?

The problem is the difficult economy has made our stress and insecurity more pronounced, which can often exacerbate the jealousy we feel on the job. We become more emotionally sensitive, and find ourselves battling the green-eyed monster in our cubicle.

Suddenly, it seems as if a co-worker’s off-handed comment about how your messy desk is a health threat doesn’t seem like a friendly quip but a direct insult. Remarks – even joking comments – are taken personally and negatively.

Psychologists say we often feel jealous when we sense someone has taken something away from us that we were attached to emotionally. You may have really been counting on a promotion, for example, so you may react in anger or hurt when you don’t get it. Jealousy really hits when we feel something is unfair, they explain.

So, you may feel jealous when a colleague gets a new project that you feel you deserved because you have more seniority, and because you had already envisioned the team you would pick and how much it would help your career.

Envy is a bit different than jealousy because it is usually about wanting something we don’t have. In that case, we may find ways to demean whoever has that which we desire – such as saying that when Jim get the promotion he is lazy and will fail at his new job.

Those experiencing jealousy or envy often want to put such uncomfortable and stressful thoughts aside, but don’t know how. If you find yourself in such a position, try:

  1. Learning from the experience. Set aside your negative feeling about Jim getting the promotion, for example, and instead think about what he did to get the job. Could it be that he did a better job of promoting his hard work or connecting with the right people? He played it smarter than you, so what can you do differently in the future to have a different outcome? This situation is giving you a chance to learn something new, so consider that a good thing.
  2. Staying away from triggers. If you get sick with envy when you talk to Maggie then avoid her for a bit until you can look at the situation in a more positive light. Maybe you avoid the office coffee pot when she’s around, or communicate with her mostly via e-mail.
  3. Being honest with yourself.  Trying to tell yourself you’re not envious or jealous won’t help you move past it. Try to get at the root of your feelings. Do you feel that you’re not getting the amount of respect and recognition you deserve? Does it feel like your career is off track and it makes you feel vulnerable and scared?
  4. Finding other victories. Try turning your mind and emotions in another direction by focusing on another goal. Work to improve your time in a 5K race, help to organize an important industry conference or start your own blog. This is the time to focus on the things that make you unique so  that when you feel jealous or envious, you can have clear reminders of the things you do well.

Finally, it’s OK if you’re jealous or envious. But the key to making sure such feelings don’t poison your life is viewing the situation as a learning and growing experience. Think about how you can take what you’re feeling and become a better person and employee.

Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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