Combatting Envy in Your Career

Posted August 8, 2012 by Marcy Farrey in On the Ladder

When I first decided to change careers, I had this bad habit of checking Facebook every morning as soon as I woke up.  I was temporarily working retail and applying for grad school, so I had a lot of extra time on my hands to mope around, check Facebook, and compare myself to others.  So-and-so from my school just got promoted to a news anchor position; my friend just won an award for her breaking news coverage; that girl I never liked just got engaged.  Then I’d look at myself in my pajamas at 10 a.m. and want to crawl back into my bed for the rest of the day.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why do we constantly compare ourselves to others?  Forbes Contributor Kristi Hedges breaks down The Real Reason You’re Jealous of Your Friend’s Success:

Envy is a natural condition that has deep biological roots.  As Sarah Hill and David Buss explain in their research, The Evolutionary Psychology of Envy, we experience envy because it’s enabled us to evaluate our position in the competition for resources.  Social comparison is the way we determine where we stand, and how to adjust.  And we’re most envious of those who are similar to us, which explains the issue with our friends’ success . . .”

Envy is a feeling that we can’t avoid, and since our jobs are so important to us, the focus of our envy tends to fall on career progress.  We want to know where we stand in comparison to everyone else, and many times, we want ourselves to be doing the best.

In the workplace, envy can manifest itself as gossip.  Anyone who has been the subject of gossip knows how awful it can be, but at the same time, many of us are guilty of perpetuating gossip about others.  Hedges spoke to Dr. Nigel Nicholson, who teaches organizational behavior at the London Business School.  He says gossip helps us find our place in the social web, but it can have a negative impact:

Where gossip starts to be a problem, is when it’s used to denigrate another person to alleviate our own envy.  Nicholson adds that we’re masters of self-deception, as we disguise our gossip as being charitable rather than for what it actually is.  In the gossip we spread, we always assume the moral high ground. (i.e. ‘I say this for Ann’s own good as a friend, but she needs to step it up at work.’)”

If envy is inevitable, how do we combat it in a healthy way?  Hedges says we have to recognize it for what it is — a feeling that will pass:

Understanding where envy comes from, and the nuances of gossip can be helpful.  The next time we find ourselves feeling jealous, we can call it out: ‘Oh, that’s just a status threat we all get with friends.  It’ll pass.’  And we can be more reflective and intentional about the gossip we listen to and share by considering the real reasons behind it.”

We all know some people who aren’t capable of this, and who trigger us to slip back into envy and gossip.  Your job is to watch for it in yourself, and if you feel that one of your friends is always tempting you to slip back down into the negative state, then, Hedges suggest, spend more time with positive people!  Find the people that help build up your confidence.

For me, it was more of an issue of getting out my own negative mind.  Whenever I feel tempted to compare myself to others, I leave the Facebook page and do something positive for myself that will move me further along my path.  I remind myself that everyone has their own time and their own pacing — the important thing is to not have your goals sidetracked by envy.

Want to learn more about envy and gossip in the workplace? Read the rest of Kristi Hedges’ article here.

About the Author

Marcy Farrey

Marcy Farrey is a videographer, writer, and editor. In her previous life, she worked as a broadcast news reporter and producer in Lincoln, Nebraska and as a writer and producer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She has a Master of Arts in Writing and Publishing from DePaul University and a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Northwestern University. Learn more about Marcy on her website


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