How to handle envy at work

Whether you’re the offending party or the object of someone’s envy, this is how to prevent it from derailing your career.

How to handle envy at work

Don't let envy get ugly.

All of us feel it at some point: Envy. Though it’s a natural human emotion, it can escalate and even derail your career if it seeps into your job. Overcoming envy isn't exactly easy, but it's necessary.

Before we go any further, be careful not to confuse jealousy with envy; they’re two very different things. With jealousy, you have something (usually a relationship) and feel threatened of losing it to a third party. Envy, on the other hand, is your desire to have something that another person possesses. You’d be jealous if someone flirted with your significant other, but you’d be envious of your sister’s awesome new job.

In some instances, you might be the object of someone’s envy—maybe you nabbed a big promotion. In other cases, you might be the envious person—if your co-worker got tapped for a plumb assignment you’ve been dreaming of. In either scenario, these tense feelings can damage work relationships, disrupt teams, and undermine job performance.

So, how do you deal with envy? Checking your ego at the door would do the trick, but that’s easier said than done. These steps will help you tame the beast and avoid making enemies at work.

If you’re envious

Fess up

Before you can do anything to mend the situation, you have to own your feelings. “If you can admit you're envious, you can start dealing with it," says Johanna Rothman, management consultant and author of Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management. It’s OK to want a co-worker’s success for your own, but you have to acknowledge your envy before it turns into resentment.

Congratulate the co-worker

Part of being a good co-worker is celebrating your peers’ achievements, says career and executive coach Maggie Mistal. Let’s say Jane got a promotion and you didn’t. Instead of stewing over your loss, congratulate her—ideally in front of your other co-workers. That kind of behavior will help cement your relationship with Jane (instead of tarnishing it) and lay the groundwork for her to reciprocate when you reach accomplishments in the future.

Make top performers your mentors

A great strategy for overcoming envy is to treat high achievers as potential mentors rather than opponents. Leveraging relationships with top-performing peers can help improve your skills. Also, simply being associated with the cream of the crop can boost your reputation—and having that kind of positive image can help you get noticed by company brass.

Keep your work life away from your personal life

Job envy can spill over into your life outside of work if you let it consume you. A University of Cincinnati Lindner College of Business study, which looked at the effects of envy in the workplace, found that negative feelings were carried home with the envious party, went to bed with them, woke up with them, and stuck with them into the following day, ultimately wasting their valuable time and hindering their productivity. Don’t let that happen. Keep your work life separate from your personal life.

If you’re the object of someone’s envy

Assess your culpability

If you think a co-worker is envious of you and the person is lashing out, start by taking a step back and looking in the mirror. You may be fueling the person’s envy if you’re always tooting your own horn, sucking up to the boss, or coming across as a know-it-all, says Karen Litzinger, a speaker and trainer on business etiquette and professionalism.

Your best strategy: Save the brag-a-thon for after work—don't name-drop that you had lunch with the CEO, bonded with your boss over drinks, or talk excitedly about your big raise with co-workers.

Approach the person directly

Envy can drive people to behave badly, which means you may become the victim of gossip, exclusion, or even sabotage. Serious offenders should be dealt with one-on-one. Say to the person, “You seemed a little upset with me at the morning meeting. I really value our relationship, so I wanted to check in. What’s going on?”

Worried about how the person will react? “To disarm them and be less threatening, you could even say, ‘I'm wondering if there is something that I did to offend you, and would like to talk about how we could work together better,’” says Litzinger.

In most cases, having a calm conversation with the person will de-escalate the situation and enable you and your colleague to find a mutually agreeable way of moving forward. If you have trouble resolving the issue on your own, your manager may need to become involved.

Find a less-toxic workplace

Overcoming envy can be an exhausting, if necessary, exercise. If a co-worker is making your life miserable, or if you’ve been overlooked for a promotion, it’s time to check out greener pastures. Want some help with that? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you’ll get customized job alerts sent right to your inbox, so you’ll spend less time combing through job ads. Additionally, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to different types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Find a better job today, and make yourself the envy of everyone else.