Dear Crucial Skills,
How do you address envy or jealousy in the workplace? To be specific, what can you do when a colleague reacts negatively to another colleague’s success? Or, even worse, what do you do when it progresses from the occasional nasty comment to outright sabotage?
Green with Envy
Dear Green with Envy,
The ancient Greek tragedian and the father of tragedy Aeschylus once said, “It is in the character of very few men to honor without envy a friend who has prospered.”
Before addressing the specific questions at hand, let’s first explore a larger question: How do you create a competitive employee culture that also finds joy in the success of others? This is as important in the corporate world as it is in the world of sports, communities, and families. Great teams thrive when each member can rejoice when others succeed.
Too often, as individuals we translate praise of another as personal shame. We see a team member’s promotion as our demotion. Others’ victories become our failures. It’s been said that we don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are. Thus, the key is to help employees see their world differently. Create a new paradigm. Three areas of focus (Competition, Celebration, and Collaboration) will help you in these efforts.
Our new paradigm begins with of all places, competition. Competition can drive innovation, increase effort, and achieve results. It can also increase anxiety, promote silos, and undermine collaboration and teamwork. While employees undoubtedly compete for recognition, bonuses, and promotions, that doesn’t mean they are competing one with another.
Author and modern-day philosopher Matshona Dhiwayo said, “To be a champion, compete; to be a great champion, compete with the best; but to be the greatest champion, compete with yourself.” The only real person we should compete with is ourselves. Foster this paradigm by being clear with employees what they are competing against. During one-one-ones and performance reviews, discuss goals, aspirations, and measurements. Let their behavior and performance act as their baseline for improvement and recognition, not another’s.
Competition can also be centered on standards, competencies, or shared goals. This type of culture fosters multiple winners. It allows each employee to achieve success, rather than a winner-take-all approach. Strong organizations foster such competition allowing all to compete and all to win.
Often the root cause behind another’s inability to find joy in the success of others is that they themselves don’t feel recognized. While we may not be able to give everyone a promotion, there should be no limit to our celebration. Never has this been more important than with the rising generations in the workplace. It has been documented over the years that employer approval is one of the highest predictors of younger employee job satisfaction. It’s true that desired behavior, when reinforced, tends to be repeated. Look for and create opportunities to celebrate your employees. In doing so, make sure your celebrations are meaningful, specific, in the moment, and authentic.
Another way to foster a culture free of envy (or at least diminish it), is to create a culture of collaboration. Collaboration not only improves the way your team works together, leading to efficiency, communication, innovation, and success, it also builds team reward and recognition.
Working together on projects, plans, and initiatives allows others to see the contributions of others more clearly, as well as drives team connections and loyalties. Collaboration avoids individual praise and promotes team recognition and appreciation. It creates a “We” environment rather than a “Me” environment.
Working toward an environment with the right competition, celebration, and collaboration will take time. And it won’t be without challenges. There may be times when colleagues do react negatively to another’s success. Or as mentioned, occasional nasty comments may lead to outright sabotage. In those instances, it’s time for a Crucial Conversation. Hopefully, you can address the situation before it escalates.
When meeting with the individual begin by sharing your intent. Remind them of the goal to create a culture of support and where wins can be celebrated by all. Share with them the behavior you have noticed and ask them to share their thoughts. Listen intently to understand. Ask clarifying questions when needed and hear their meaning. In doing so the goal is to come to a mutual purpose—creating a win-win culture where all can be recognized, rewarded, and remembered for their contributions.
In William Shakespeare’s Othello, Lago declares, “Beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” I’d love to hear from you. What have you done to overcome envy and jealousy in the workplace? How have you worked to build a culture of celebration amidst competition?