Does everyone in your workplace get along well… or is there an undercurrent of negativity—or even jealousy?

Jealousy can be a difficult and destructive emotion – and it can wreak havoc in the workplace. It’s technically distinct from envy: Jealousy usually involves feeling like a rival to someone else, but envy is more about wanting what they have.

What Causes Jealousy at Work?

Employees might feel jealous if they think someone else is getting preferential treatment. For instance, if their co-worker regularly goes to lunch with the manager (but no one else on the team does), that could lead to jealousy.

They might be afraid that the co-worker will win a promotion ahead of them, for instance, due to their personal friendship with the manager.

Another cause of jealousy – closer to envy – is when the employee feels that they’ve been treated unfairly or that they have to deal with problems no one else has. For instance, wages can be garnished. If their take-home pay is low because of garnishments due to issues like unpaid taxes, child support, or defaulted student loans, then the worker might feel jealous of co-workers who aren’t dealing with these financial stressors.

Signs of Jealousy at Work

Your employees may try to hide their jealous or envious feelings. But some warning signs are:

  • Belittling other people’s accomplishments. If an employee reacts to someone else’s success by saying, “Oh, they just got lucky” or “Anyone could have done that” then that could be a sign of jealousy.
  • Ignoring other people’s ideas. Maybe one person brings good ideas to meetings, but other members of the team refuse to listen to them.
  • Refusing to speak to someone. This is clearly quite an extreme case, which indicates a relationship has badly broken down.
  • Saying nothing when a colleague is congratulated or when someone shares their good news. 

How to Deal With Other Peoples’ Jealousy

Maybe a coworker who was formerly friendly to you has turned cold and aloof ever since you received a promotion. Or perhaps you’re getting snide comments or remarks from someone on your team about how you’re clearly the boss’s favorite.

It can be tough to deal with other people’s jealousy or envy – but here are some practical things you can try:

  • Be polite and civil. Don’t stoop to their level – it could make the situation worse (and could lead to you getting into trouble at work).
  • Offer help and support (if they’ll let you). Let’s say a grumpy coworker says, “You’re so fast with these reports, you’re making us mere mortals look bad.” You might say something like, “Oh, I struggled at first, but I found a way to really speed things up. Can I show you?”
  • Try not to take it personally. Chances are, you haven’t done anything wrong. “Jealousy can arise for all kinds of reasons, and it’s your colleagues’ responsibility to work through them, not yours,” says Kate Hanselman, board-certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.
  • Ignore the jealous behavior. If you do decide to speak to your colleague about it, do so privately and in a non-confrontational way. You may discover that the root of jealousy is a communication problem.

How to Deal With Your Own Jealousy

Maybe you’re struggling with jealousy or envy at work. Perhaps you have a star co-worker who’s constantly getting praised by management – and who receives lavish rewards. 

Jealousy can be very destructive to your peace of mind. It keeps you focused, in a negative way, on someone else – rather than on your own actions and performance.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Don’t compare yourself to other people. It can be very tempting to constantly see how you measure up against someone else, whether that’s in terms of their productivity, the amount of praise they receive, or their paycheck. Instead, bring your focus back to yourself. How can you move toward your goals at work? What could you do differently this month compared with last month?
  • Be happy for colleagues when they succeed. And if you can’t be happy, at least pretend to … you might find that genuine pleasure in their achievement follows! Say, “Well done” when they receive an award or recognition.
  • Try to figure out what underlies your jealousy. Maybe you’re envious of someone’s promotion because you’re worried about your personal finances – and the money would have really helped. Is there a different way you can improve things financially? By taking positive action, you’ll find that the jealous feelings fade naturally.
  • Avoid gossip and talking behind people’s backs. In some workplaces, a negative culture develops where several coworkers complain to one another about a high-flying colleague. This just feeds your jealous feelings. Opt out of these types of conversations: you won’t gain anything by surrounding yourself with negative people.

Jealousy can turn otherwise happy workplaces into uncomfortable places for everyone. Whether it’s your own jealousy or that of someone on your team, take steps today to root it out.