Urgent message: In a world that is ultra-competitive, there is no way to avoid envy in the workplace—even a workplace that exists to help others, like an urgent care center. Whether due to promotions, unequal compliments from a boss, or who gets the new office chair, employees are often envious of their coworkers. From executives to interns, or physicians to medical assistants, envy is a trap we must learn to avoid.
Alan A. Ayers, MBA, MAcc is Chief Executive Officer of Velocity Urgent Care and is Practice Management Editor of The Journal of Urgent Care Medicine
Have you ever been jealous of a coworker as they clean out their office to prepare for a promotion? Did you find yourself wishing that you were the one picked to go to the UCA conference in Florida? Can you spot your own envy, or does it sneak up on you?
It has widely been said that “comparison is the fastest route to unhappiness.” But what does this mean? Imagine thinking that you are doing well in your job, your life, or whatever activity you may be engaged in. Now think about seeing someone else that is doing just a little better. Even if you are doing well, comparing your accomplishments to those of others suddenly causes you to feel unhappy. This is the root of the problem.
What Is Envy?
Just like comparing yourself to others, envy is the distress or discouragement that is felt when people see others getting what they themselves want. It is a slippery slope that is easy to fall down but difficult to get off of. Envy is powerful enough to damage relationships, teams, and threaten entire organizations. Most importantly, however, it is damaging to the person who experiences it.
Feelings of resentment for others getting what they want negatively affects people by drastically lowering self-confidence and decreasing performance. In the workplace this is very worrisome for obvious reasons. If envy manages to infiltrate a team, the effects can be devastating.
What Happens When We Feel Envy?
Envy has been described by many psychologists as a negative emotion. Not just a thought process or feeling, but a true emotion like sadness or fear. This experience can cause a person to fixate on the object of their envy obsessively and interrupt the pursuit of their own goals. This can manifest itself in many ways.
Often, a person will find that focusing on even the simplest of tasks can be difficult. Others will find that they can’t stop thinking about what is making them envious despite a conscious effort to do so. Regardless, this disruption is a problem.
Cognitive scientist Dr. Art Markman says, “If you spend all of your time focusing on what other people have that you do not, you will not spend enough time doing what is necessary to get what you want out of life.”1
Envy Destroys Teams
Since a team is only as strong as its members, envy can quickly bring operations to a halt. An article published in the Harvard Business Review points out two common problems associated with envy among team members in the workplace: disparagement and distancing.2
Firstly, team members will find themselves—even inadvertently—putting others down to bolster their own ego. This habit is damaging to not only the individual being attacked but to the legitimacy of the team as a whole. If members are accusatory instead of supportive toward one another, they will find it difficult to be productive.
As envy grows, it is human tendency to distance oneself from the source of the negative emotion. After all, according to the article’s authors, “Strangers are an abstraction, and their achievements are merely statistics.”
It is far less emotional to rationalize a coworker’s promotion through the lens of a stranger than to see it as one that could have belonged to you. However, this behavior can quickly destroy a team as communication breaks down and people become less likely to cooperate and work together towards common goals.
Managing Your Own Envy
Since envy is an individual experience, everyone must learn to manage it on their own. It is difficult to fight back automatic thoughts of jealousy when seeing someone else’s successes. Still, there are techniques to combat your own envy:
- According to an Economic Times article, acknowledging your own accomplishments is central to battling envy. To do this, they suggest you, “List out your personal successes [to] date, your unique journey in achieving them and your special set of skills and strengths that got you here. This helps bring back focus from the other person to your own self.”3
- Identifying and taking action against your own insecurities is another measure to reduce envy
- Try to pinpoint what triggers your “envy reflex” and consider why this happens. After correctly identifying the factors surrounding your envy you can improve yourself in these areas while also curbing envious feelings
Envy in the urgent care workplace is real. It is not going away. Everyone will work as part of a team in their professional life and everyone will experience disappointment at times when others receive praise and success. The only way to break out of this pattern of envy is to focus on your own accomplishments, celebrate those of your coworkers, and continue to better yourself while working towards your own goals.
- Markman A. The upside and downside of envy. Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/ulterior-motives/201109/the-upside-and-downside-envy?amp. Accessed January 17, 2019.
- Menon T, Thompson L. Envy at Work. Harvard Business Review. Available at: https://hbr.org/2010/04/envy-at-work. Accessed January 17, 2019.
- Chakravarty D. How to deal with envy at the workplace. Economic Times. Available at: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/wealth/earn/how-to-deal-with-envy-at-the-workplace/articleshow/55769099.cms. Accessed January 17, 2019.