Updated: Jun 11
In life, it is natural to measure your personal or professional progress against others you admire or regard as successful. This comparison is especially true in a competitive work environment, where social comparison or feelings of insecurity fuel common emotions such as envy and jealousy. With friends, family, and colleagues having more access to our lives via social media, there are more opportunities for people to see our accomplishments and successes. Furthermore, due to the rise of individuals sharing more and more of their life experiences on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, emotions like envy have become more prevalent in the business world.
Although professional envy is natural, envious employees in an organization can be dangerous at every level. While envy can serve as a motivating force that boosts team performance and fosters friendly competition between colleagues, it also is regarded as a negative emotion associated with undesirable consequences (Thompson et al., 2016). If not controlled or regulated, envy can damage the bonds between co-workers, hinder the exchange of information between teams, and disrupt the overall performance of an organization (Erdil & Müceldili, 2014). Envy can create adversarial and antagonistic relationships among colleagues, which leads to a breakdown of information sharing, resulting in a loss of internal knowledge and collaboration that helps develop innovative and creative ideas for the organization. Additionally, envy can damper group learning, making it challenging to create and innovate ideas within an organization (Malik, 2016). As a natural human emotion, envy cannot be eliminated and may be prevalent in any competitive organization. However, if organizations can identify the antecedents to workplace envy, they can control and overcome any actions that trigger adverse effects. Therefore, organizations must discover management strategies to incorporate into their internal business processes to help mitigate workplace envy's negative impact on organizational communication.
To address the negative influence of workplace envy on team communication and information sharing, organizations should incorporate changes to internal policies and procedures that would suppress social comparison and reduce competitiveness among employees (Tussing et al., 2021; Wu et al., 2021). Organizations should consider integrating supervisory guidance and team-building activities that encourage office engagement into their daily practices to achieve this harmonious work culture that supports positive social exchanges, teamwork, and information sharing. However, when addressing malicious workplace envy and the counterproductive behaviors that accompany it, organizations must take extra steps to neutralize the negative emotions and actions that interfere with organizational performance (Taj et al., 2021; González-Navarro et al., 2018). Simply put, having supervisors encourage group performance or create simulated bonding moments through forced team-building exercises will not create the healthy work environment needed to yield minimum occurrences of malicious envy or negative employee interactions. Therefore, organizations must integrate strategic tactics such as incorporating interdependent tasks or goals into employee work plans, creating a need for employee collaboration, and generating opportunities for information sharing.
In addition to incorporating changes to internal policies and procedures, organizations should use envy management strategies to reduce counterproductive work behaviors that interfere with team communication and information sharing. As previously noted, social comparison is a significant source of malicious workplace envy (Erdil& Müceldili,2014). In their research, Srivastava et al. (2022) noted that unnecessary social comparisons lead to employees reacting negatively and exhibiting uncivil behavior towards their peers. Specifically, when organizations overemphasize employee acknowledgments such as awards, promotions, and bonuses, it causes unnecessary social comparison, leading to malicious workplace envy (Khan et al., 2009). Therefore, organizations should be discrete about reward allocations to avoid creating a competitive work culture, which may result in co-workers’ withdrawing their alliance and acting hatefully towards successful employees as an emotional and behavioral reaction (Duffy et al., 2020; Srivastava et al.,2022). In their research, Duffy et al. (2020) noted that organizations could also minimize comparison by encouraging job rotations and increasing resources and rewards opportunities for employees to compete for.
Additionally, organizations should try to channel envious employees’ attention away from their peers’ accomplishments and help them focus on personal development opportunities (Yu et al., 2018). Notably, managers could work with envious employees and offer them opportunities for self-improvement to help reduce the insecurities associated with workplace envy. Fundamentally, while organizations can not wholly extricate all workplace envy, it is possible to harness its positive attributes to improve organizational performance.
Recommendations for Management
To mitigate the effects of workplace envy on organizational communication and information sharing, the author of this blog recommends the following:
1) Organizations must create a culture of engagement that encourages employees to participate in social exchange and team collaboration (Xu et al., 2021). To accomplish this, managers and supervisors must create interdependent goals and tasks that require employees to work together for success. Using this technique will allow envious employees to recognize their co-workers’ success as their success.
2) Organizations should establish a system for rewards and penalties that avoids overemphasizing comparisons of employees’ performance (Wu et al., 2021). This system can be established by maintaining confidentiality about performance awards, salary raises, and bonuses to reduce the feeling of envy among employees.
3) Finally, organizations must channel envious employees’ attention away from their peers’ achievements and focus on their own personal and professional development (Yu et al., 2018). This shift in attention can be achieved by providing development opportunities for employees that underperform, such as job rotations and training, as opposed to traditional avenues of discipline. This will help the envious employee reach their professional development goals and give them the perception of support and access to resources.
Duffy, M. K., Lee, K., & Adair, E. A. (2020). Workplace envy. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-012420-055746
Erdil, O., & Müceldili, B. (2014). The Effects of Envy on Job Engagement and Turnover Intention. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 150, 447–454. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.09.050
González-Navarro, P., Zurriaga-Llorens, R., Tosin Olateju, A., & Llinares-Insa, L. (2018). Envy and Counterproductive Work Behavior: The Moderation Role of Leadership in Public and Private Organizations. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15(7), 1455. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15071455
Khan, A.K., Peretti, J.-M. & Quratualain, S. (2009). Envy and counterproductive work behaviors: Is more fairness always preferred? Samina Quratulain University Paul Cézanne. https://www.agrh.fr/assets/actes/2009khan-peretti-quratulain069.pdf
Malik, S. (2016). Conceptual challenge to understand Envy: A review. Journal of IMS Group, 13(1), 25–37
Srivastava, S., Singh, L. B., & Dhar, D. (2022). Co-worker’s envy and social undermining: the mediating role of workplace incivility. IUP Journal of Organizational Behavior, 21(2), 7–23
Taj, A., Ali, S., Zaheer, Z., & Gul, M. (2020). Impact of envy on employee wellbeing: Role of self-efficacy and job satisfaction. Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 30(2), 97
Thompson, G., Glasø, L., Martinsen,Ø. (2016). Antecedents and consequences of envy. J Soc Psychol, 56(2),139-53. https://doi.10.1080/00224545.2015.1047439
Tussing, D. V., Wihler, A., Astandu, T. V., & Menges, J. I. (2022). Should I stay or should I go? The role of individual strivings in shaping the relationship between envy and avoidance behaviors at work. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 43(4), 567-583
Wu, W., Ni, D., Wu, S., Lu, L., Zhang, X., & Hao, S. (2021). Envy climate and group performance in full-service hotels: the roles of intragroup relationship conflict and competitive climate. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 33(10), 3494-3513
Xu, G., Shen, Y., Ji, S., & Xing, Q. (2021). Knowledge sharing of employees who are envied by their workmates: A resource perspective. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 49(12), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.10859
Yu, L., Duffy, M. K., & Tepper, B. J. (2018). Consequences of downward envy: A model of self-esteem threat, abusive supervision, and supervisory leader self-improvement. Academy of Management Journal, 61(6), 2296–2318. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2015.018
Zurriaga, R., González-Navarro, P., & Buunk, A. P. (2020). Envy in the workplace: A systematic review of the past five years. Revista Psicologia Organizações e Trabalho, 20(4), 1247-1256