Management Guide: How to Keep Envy out of the Workplace

Envy is a powerful and destructive emotion, especially when it occurs in the workplace. Bruna Martinuzzi is an author and founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd, which is a company that specializes in “emotional intelligence”, leadership, skills training and Myers-Briggs. Ms. Martinuzzi recently wrote an article for which shared methods on how to keep the green-eyed monster of envy out of the workplace. In this article, some of those methods will be discussed.

How Envy Infects the Workplace

In her article, Ms. Martinuzzi shared a story from her own experience in the corporate world. One of the CEO’s whom she reported to came to her office asking for advice. He wanted to know how there could still be animosity and bickering amongst the staff even when management had done everything possible to make everyone happy—by providing excellent wages, a great benefit plan and flexible hours. Ms. Martinuzzi defined the answers as both “simple and complex.” The basic issue boiled down to employee emotions, specifically envy. Our emotions generally guide our behaviors. Envy is one of the most disruptive emotions that can instigate negative behavior in the workplace because of the following reasons.

  • It negatively affects employee moods and the morale of the office
  • It causes feelings of defeat, as well as detachment from tasks and loss of productivity

According to Ms. Martinuzzi, one of the dangers involved in this issue is that “we are not used to talking about envy in polite society or in our workplaces.”

Why Envy Can Begin to Permeate the Office Atmosphere

Envy can permeate the workplace for a variety of reasons but the results are never good. Ms. Martinuzzi shared the following reasons why envy rises up amongst the staff.

  • Competing for limited resources and budgets
  • Fighting over coveted work assignments
  • Coveting character traits of a colleague
  • Losing a promotion to a more qualified coworker
  • Vying for the attention of management
  • Coveting another colleague’s pay level
  • Feeling like an outsider amongst coworkers

Of course, envy is part of human nature and cannot be completely avoided. However, there are ways for management to properly deal with this disruptive issue.

Two Main Triggers of Envy Disrupting the Workplace

Ms. Martinuzzi advises that there are two main triggers of envy disrupting the workplace. In both cases, management has unwittingly opened the door to such triggers. Both triggers are explained below.

  • “Having the Boss’s Ear” – In this scenario, a specific employee who does not have any executive title or high position, has cultivated a large amount of personal power due to his or her professional relationship with a manager or boss. For example, this person has influence on the boss and the boss trusts this person. Ms. Martinuzzi advises that the problems arise when other employees see what is happening and begin to fear that anything said within earshot of this person will get back to the boss. It “results in a climate of apprehension and distrust of the individual, and by extension, the leader.”
  • Hiring New “Top Guns” – In this scenario, a leader who joins the company has inherited long-term employees. However, over time, this leader decides to hire new employees and the other employees begin to perceive these new hires as favorites of the leader. Ms. Martinuzzi advises that they think the new hires were “hand-picked by the leader and are viewed as more in line with the leader’s ethos and style.” Of course, in most cases, the existing employees are still well treated. Yet, they seem to pick up on subtle nuances signaling that the new hires are now part of the leader’s personally assembled team and are his or her favorites.

How to Minimalize Envy in the Workplace

Management cannot be expected to completely eradicate envy from the workplace. However, there are steps that a leader can take to cultivate an atmosphere that minimizes its disruptive effects. Ms. Martinuzzi shared that Dr. Robert P. Vecchio is a leading scholar who has written an article, “Managing Envy and Jealousy in the Workplace.” He has described envy and jealousy as “commonplace in work settings in part because of the inherent competitiveness of organizational life.” Dr. Vecchio recommends that leaders follow five basic initiatives to neutralize the disruption of envy in the workplace.

  1.  Evaluation – Management needs to comprehensively evaluate the emotional maturity of prospective candidates during the hiring process.
  2.  Incorporating – Management should begin to cultivate a professionally healthy team culture in the workplace.
  3.  Implementing – Management should implement incentives for employees who exhibit support and cooperation of the team culture.
  4.  Encouraging – Management must encourage open and honest communication amongst the employees, team leaders and everyone in the organization.
  5.  Placement Strategy – Management should implement a placement strategy that puts high performers (who are often triggers of envy) into mentoring roles in the office.

It is possible for the management team to strive to keep envy out of the workplace. In this article, we learned from experts in the industry on how envy negatively affects the atmosphere in the office. We also learned why envy creeps up and what the two main triggers are. In following the steps outlined by Dr. Vecchio, management can cultivate a team culture that promotes an atmosphere free of envy.


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