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How to effectively deal with jealousy at work

We’ve all been there. Here’s how to prevent jealousy from creating a toxic work environment—whether it’s you or a coworker feeling envious.

How to effectively deal with jealousy at work
[Source illustration: nadia_bormotova/iStock]

We’ve all felt jealous before. As much as you try not to, perhaps you can’t help but notice when your boss praises your coworker and somehow skips over your contribution. Or maybe you feel envious when others were invited to an after-work happy hour, and you were left out.

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Though it’s normal to occasionally find yourself envious of a colleague’s success (or to feel their eyes burning into your back when you get a promotion), it’s also vital to manage these feelings appropriately. Otherwise, it can create a toxic environment that isn’t beneficial for anyone. 

Generally speaking, jealousy is a feeling derived from shame and low self-esteem, explains therapist Janette Marsac. In a professional setting, a shame-driven person may interpret and internalize feedback as ‘I am terrible.’ It may sound like ‘I didn’t get the acknowledgement or raise because I didn’t deserve it.’ 

“This self-defeating inner monologue that drives jealousy is extremely common among shame-prone individuals in the workplace,” she says. “Jealousy tends to come up frequently when a person feels inadequate for their job or may be experiencing imposter syndrome.”

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Yikes, right? Regardless if you’re experiencing jealousy or you suspect your teammates are envious of your progression, there are effective—albeit a tad uncomfortable—ways to manage the emotions and move forward. 

What to do if you’re feeling jealous

Before you make a rash decision or react inappropriately, take time to have an honest check-in with yourself to try and find the source of your feelings. The simple act of labeling your emotions verbally can reduce their intensity, explains Dr. David Rock, the CEO and founder of NeuroLeadership Institute. When you pause to label a feeling of jealousy, it can help you understand how it impacts your cognitive functions and actions. 

If you need help dialing into your psyche, try asking yourself these questions:

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  • When did I start feeling this way?
  • Was there an interaction that spurred these feelings?
  • How can I handle triggers? 

Use comparison wisely 

While it’s easier said than done, comparison isn’t a healthy practice. It may be a natural reaction to see how you stack up against someone else, but it isn’t an accurate indication of your abilities, Marsac says.

Instead, it’s more beneficial to measure your personal and professional growth over time. “Do a review and remind yourself of all you’ve accomplished since you became a professional,” she continues. “We all had to learn our trades and master them, and that looks different for everyone. How we learn, our motivations, dedications, and overall life experiences influence how we work and what our work looks like.” 

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And even if a colleague is seemingly further along in their career than you are, Marsac says it’s vital to keep in mind paths may look similar, but they are never the same. We all struggle with confidence and abilities, even if it doesn’t appear that way from the outside perspective. 

Have a candid conversation with your manager

In some cases, your jealousy may be valid—or perhaps, it’s the sign that there’s been a misunderstanding. If a colleague has something that you think you deserve, too, consider what makes that true, says Watchen Nyanue, a strategist and the founder of I Choose the Ladder. Is there data that supports your feelings? Can you prove it? If so, it’s time to have a conversation with your manager. However, Nyanue says this discussion should center on you, not the other person. 

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“Come to the conversation not in a defensive way, not in a way where you’re accusing your manager of something—even if that’s how you feel,” she says. “That’s not the data that’s going to help you get to where you want to be. You want to talk to your manager with data that helps you to advocate for where it is that you’re trying to be.”

Challenge yourself to celebrate the successes of others

Part of being a professional (and being an adult) is celebrating other people’s successes. Just because someone else is having a spectacular quarter in the office and yours is less than stellar, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to stay the course. Instead, try to take their accomplishments as inspiration, Nyanue recommends. Good energy creates more good energy—and these days, we could all use a little more positivity.

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“You should be in the space of celebrating because everybody’s working hard for that. They may not be working hard by your standards, but most people are working hard for them,” she says. “You want to celebrate the wins of your colleagues because success is in the building, and you know that eventually, it’s going to be your turn.”

What to do if someone’s jealous of you

Whenever you’re around one of your teammates, do you feel uneasy? Maybe it’s the way they disregard your ideas. Or perhaps, they bluntly give you the cold shoulder. When your intuition suggests someone is jealous of you, it can be tricky to address the concern. Here’s how: 

Have the (uncomfortable) conversion

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If there are situations that have happened on multiple occasions and you’ve identified a pattern and collected the data, Nyanue says you can then have a conversation. Fair warning: It probably won’t be the most comfortable experience, but it could help get to the root of the issue if conducted kindly and professionally. “It should be about the situation, so the person doesn’t feel attacked,” she says. “Maybe sometimes it’s an unconscious thing that they have, or maybe it’s an insecurity that they have that they don’t even know is showing up in the way that it is.”

As an example, Nyanue says you could open the conversation with this statement: ‘Hey XX, I’ve noticed that X, Y, and Z happens when I, [present an idea, give feedback, etc.]. I’ve noticed that I get shut down every time. Can we discuss this?’

If you feel like the person is open to chatting, it could be helpful to ask questions to get at the root of the jealousy, says Joanna Lovering, executive presence coach and the founder of Copper + Rise. “Sometimes, the presenting problem is not really a core of what’s going on,” she says. “What’s typically at the core of jealousy is fear. Fear of losing their job, fear of being embarrassed, fear because of impostor syndrome. If you can help that person get to the root of that here, the jealousy will fall away, and you will have a much better relationship with this person.”

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Remember, it’s not your responsibility

Sometimes, there isn’t much you can do to help someone else work through their jealousy. As Marsac puts it, you’re not responsible for someone else’s feelings or interpretation of you. “If you did a great job at work and a colleague or boss seems jealous of you, remind yourself that is their experience with feeling jealous,” she says. “A person should not change their work effort to tip-toe around a colleague who may experience jealousy. Work with good intentions, maintain integrity, and allow yourself to feel proud for a job well done.”

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