Envy in general, and therefore also envy at work, is the emotion that awakens within us when we believe another person has something we lack. It is that simple, although it is only that simple on the surface.
In reality, we can find other more complex concepts behind this summarized definition. This is because envy has many cultural considerations, contrary to what happens with other emotions, which we call basic (joy, fear, or anger, for example). Among other reasons, envy is an emotion that, in addition to not being shared with other vertebrates (such as dogs or apes), does not appear from the early stages of our evolutionary development but much later.
In a very vulgar way, someone doesn’t need to teach us to be afraid of a snake, to feel relief when our needs are met, anger when someone hits us, or joy when we receive good news: we do it from a very early age and without the need for great explanations. However, we learn to be envious of someone who is promoted professionally before us, who has a higher salary or receives much more praise than we do from colleagues or bosses.
Envy at work in three phases
With its nuances, we all experience envy as a single, homogeneous phenomenon (“we feel bad when we see that someone else has something we don’t have”). However, there are three components of envy in general and envy at work, particularly, that should be differentiated.
1. It is an emotion that occurs in a relationship
Envy at work implies, in the first place, that we observe another, perhaps a colleague, a boss, a subordinate. That is to say, contrary to what happens with other emotions (I can feel fear at a precipice or joy when I pass an exam, that is, I do not need any other being to experience the emotion), envy is a phenomenon that necessarily occurs in the context of a relationship with someone or, at least, requires the presence of another person.
2. It is related to our desires
Moreover, by definition, envy at work also implies the triggering of a desire. Although we often do not realize it, desiring something is nothing more than the realization of wanting something. After all, no one desires what they already have but precisely what they still need.
3. Awakens our hostility
Finally, and in a way that is often difficult to admit, there is something else that we cannot ignore when we talk about envy among coworkers: the hostility that goes with it. Unlike admiration, which is a pleasant emotion to feel and which connects us with reference to whom we would like to resemble and whose virtues we celebrate, envy is a negative emotion (not bad, but unpleasant to feel) that, in some way, makes us enemies with the person who has what we desire.
These three components (envy at work as something relational, as a perception of need, and as a source of hostility towards another person) are fundamental. We cannot ignore them if we want to learn how to manage this emotion correctly or if we’re going to help other members of our team deal with it daily in the office.
Otherwise, the consequences for the work environment, team cohesion, or even the self-esteem of the person who suffers from pronounced envy at work can be very negative and seriously affect the performance of the person and the team to which they belong.
Below we will further examine these three characteristics of envy at work to deal with them more adaptively.
Envy at work as a relationship obstacle
Envy among coworkers is not very elegant, and not everyone knows how to admit it, but, in any case, it is also very human, and it makes no sense to pretend it doesn’t happen.
This is especially relevant in demanding professional environments, where competition is fierce, or the only validations are achieved based on great successes or standing out above others. That is why it is essential to keep in mind that we cannot foster a highly competitive, vertical corporate culture with employment benefits only for some employees and pretend that among them, there is no great envy at work.
Therefore, we must bear in mind that envy distances people from each other, places them as rivals rather than partners, encourages a sense of comparative grievance rather than a sense of fairness, and distorts the explanation we give the achievements of others.
A corporate culture that facilitates the visibility of all that helps everyone enhance their talents that is equitable invalidations, enabling access to different benefits based on merit and equal opportunities is a good corporate framework to prevent excessive envy among coworkers.
Envy at work as a perception of a need
As mentioned, envy is associated with the desire to possess something (material or immaterial) that another has and, therefore, that we lack. Although this is unpleasant to feel, we can also consider it interesting information: what does our envy at work tell us? We need to have, get, and receive and have not yet achieved. It informs us about our capabilities and resources, both those we have well developed and those buried somewhere.
That is why it is vital that, when we talk about envy among coworkers, we stop to think about what makes us envious of the other person: is it their qualities, their working conditions, the benefits they receive?
If we learn to identify this, it will be easier for us not to remain solely in the discomfort we feel towards that person, that is to say, in the discomfort associated with our needs. Then we will be able to obtain what we observe in that person, and, step by step, we will not be envious of them.
Envy at work as a source of hostility
It is commonly accepted that being envious of someone is, in a certain sense, a somewhat distorted and potentially destructive version of a much nobler feeling: admiration. What do we mean by that?
It’s simple: we admire those capabilities, achievements, or characteristics of people we do not have. We do it from positivity, the favorable amazement, considering that this person is a reference of a virtue that we would like to possess, and we are amazed by observing it in them. When we admire someone, we do not negatively think of them. On the contrary: we recognize their virtues and applaud them.
That is why admiration towards coworkers is not incompatible with a healthy ambition and is often the flip side of envy. This leads us to greed, hatred towards the other, the desire that the other person should stop possessing what they now have, and the desire that life should punish them in some way in compensation for what it does give them.
Also, as we explained at the beginning, envy does not favor friendship at work because it can lead us to think that the other does not deserve what they have, that they are a job climber, that they are unfairly favored, or that they are irritatingly perfect, rather than admirably gifted.
Caring for people’s emotional well-being at work
At ifeel, we are committed to employee well-being, and that is why we want to help companies build a healthy and constructive corporate culture for all their members. Our team of psychologists specializing in workplace health has created an emotional well-being program for companies with that goal in mind.
Through this collaboration, HR managers can receive personalized, data-driven advice on how to detect, for example, possible dysfunctionalities in relationships within their teams and their causes and how to address them so that they do not affect the work environment seriously. In addition, this program offers employees a comprehensive mental health care service structured at different levels according to their needs. Try our program now so you can discover all its advantages.
Be sure to visit our Resources section. We have a variety of content that will help you perform in a healthier way both as an individual and as a team. There are podcasts, guides for Human Resources on various topics that affect emotional well-being in the workplace, and interviews with important HR managers. In addition, we have a Psychosocial Risk Factors Template, so you can use it to comply with the requirements of the Labor Inspection.
We hope this post about envy at work has been interesting. If you want more information about our emotional well-being program for companies, simply request it, and we will contact your team as soon as possible.