Envy in the workplace

Though envy is a common emotion—especially as social media magnifies the successes and failures of our peers—it is rarely acknowledged in the workplace. How does our tendency to compare ourselves to others affect us at work? What contributes to these feelings, and what are the effects?  A recent article from Knowledge@Wharton looks into these questions and more.

According to Shimul Melwani, a professor at UNC’s Kenan Flagler Business School, “Envy is rife in the workplace because a large number of people work on teams with peers who are like us, but who are also competing with us for scarce resources…There are so many different dimensions on which we compare ourselves to others.”

Feelings of envy can be destructive, potentially leading employees to undermine each other or hindering effective collaboration. On the flip side, envy can be a tool for improving performance, motivating employees to match the success of their peers. Researchers suggest that management acknowledge the tendency to feel jealous of peers, and neutralize them by minimizing iniquities among team members and setting collective goals for the group—and, of course, recognizing that some competition can be a good thing. Unfortunately, our surveys suggest that such finely-tuned leadership skills may be beyond the grasp of many companies.