The number of employees working from home exploded in 2020 due to COVID. Work from home arrangements are also a source of jealous co-workers in newly distributed workplaces. Jealousy arises in the workplace primarily due to perceived or actual disparities between co-workers. In a work from home situation, these disparities are due to a variety of reasons, including a perception that the arrangements favor some over others.
Jealousy in the workplace is nothing new. Co-workers have been seething about the successes of their rivals for centuries. If you’re working from home and your co-workers aren’t, chances are a few of them are envious. While this may seem harmless, left unchecked there are real costs incurred by the envier, the envied, and the larger workplace. At worst, jealous co-workers can result in situations that undermine the success of the entire organization and its employees.
Negative Results of Jealous Co-Workers
Some effects of jealousy are easy to identify such as damaged relationships and disruptions in team operations. However, the repercussions of these effects have much broader implications. A few examples of the negative effects on the bigger picture include:
- Loss of productivity and talent. Severe cases of jealousy can lead to talented employees becoming less engaged, unsatisfied in their position, and not committed to giving their best. At worst, envy will lead to employees leaving the organization.
- Less adoption of internal innovations. Studies have shown that employees are less likely to support ideas if they come from co-workers. Researchers theorize this is because they fear a loss of status by acknowledging the skills of their colleagues.
- Loss of employee morale. Negativity is contagious. Jealous employees may work to undermine the colleagues they envy. This can lead to other co-workers taking sides, which can then lead to a toxic work environment.
Unfortunately, times of crisis tend to exacerbate jealous feelings. Feelings are running high as employees feel less secure in their jobs. They are stressed due to added responsibilities and restrictions. They may also feel physically at risk of getting ill if required to work in the office.
Common Rationale for Jealous Co-Workers
Before you can address a problem with jealous co-workers, pinpointing the exact causes of the jealousy is important. Once you can identify these reasons, you are better equipped to address their feelings and concerns. Below are common ways that co-workers will voice their complaints, as well as the reasons they might cite for feeling envious of their colleagues.
- Special treatment. Perhaps the most common reason given for feelings of envy is wanting the arrangement given to another employee. Jealous co-workers feel that it’s unfair they were not given the same opportunity.
- Work from home too much. If there are partial telecommute arrangements in place, jealous co-workers may accuse those working from home of spending too much time out of the office.
- Abusing work from home privileges. Another common complaint is that workers at home are slacking-off or in some other way taking advantage of management or the company by working from home.
- Lack of accountability. Without a direct visual, many jealous co-workers think that their work from home colleagues aren’t doing as much as they are. They may feel they are carrying more weight and work harder.
- Lack of communication. Some jealous co-workers dislike telecommuters because they are not readily available to ask questions or get feedback. They might resent having to wait for responses to their emails, DMs, or voicemails.
A Few Clues to Identify Co-Worker Jealousy
It’s important to be aware of work relationships and sensitive to subtle changes that signal a problem of co-worker envy. While envy (or the signs thereof) may seem apparent, most people don’t want to confess their jealous feelings. This means that they will act out in more covert ways, camouflaging their envy in a multitude of ways including dislike, teasing, and most deviously, as concern. Below are a few tactics jealous co-workers use in the workplace:
- Gossip. Talking behind the backs of co-workers is a classic sign of jealousy. In an office environment, this is easy to diagnose because as soon as you walk into a room, everyone will clam up. In a virtual environment, this can be more difficult to notice.
- Withholding praise. If you find that when you are praised by management or accomplish a goal, your co-workers do not provide any support, this can be a sign of jealousy. This is especially true if you notice that they support each other under the same circumstances.
- Withholding assistance. Similar to above, when co-workers avoid working with you on a project or are suddenly really busy when you need a hand, this can be a sign of jealousy.
- Sabotage. If things are really bad, you may find yourself being actively sabotaged by your jealous co-workers. This can take a variety of forms including providing you with false information under the guise of trying to help. Other ways are by blaming you for mistakes not your own and telling the managers lies about you.
- Mocking/Disparaging Comments. The most direct way that co-workers display their jealousy is the frontal assault. Tactics include talking down to you or undercutting your abilities in front of management and your peers.
Tips for Managing Co-Worker Jealousy
While co-worker jealousy is fairly commonplace, there are positive strategies to help you cope if you are the subject of jealousy. Below are just a few options you can try.
Going on about working from home and how much you love checking email in your slippers is fanning the flames. While you cannot control someone else’s feelings of jealousy, you can keep yourself from flaunting your remote status.
Address Office Gossip
Every workplace will have people who feel compelled to stir up trouble every chance they get. As above, avoid contributing to the drama and if possible, take a proactive approach. Try asking your co-worker about their complaint. If you can address it, do so, if not, you’ll look like the bigger person for trying to resolve the issue.
While many times the complaints of your co-workers will be based on perceived unfairness, sometimes the inequity is real. COVID-19 caused many rushed transitions to virtual and distributed work models. Without the usual amount of thought and discussion that usually accompanies such drastic changes, mistakes are inevitable.
If you encounter unclear or unfair policies, acknowledge them with your co-workers and support them if they wish to undertake constructive action. This situation will require some wisdom as you are likely not fully aware of your co-workers’ employment arrangements or your employer’s decision-making rational.
Be Kind to Yourself
If you are subject to co-worker jealousy, your first reaction is probably to strike back. Fight fire with fire by returning their hostility or mocking or lack of support right back at them. Unfortunately, this is likely to make the situation worse, both for yourself, your jealous co-workers, and the other members of your team.
Your best response is to not get sucked into the negative feelings of your co-workers. Instead, focus on yourself and your performance. Remember why you were hired and do the best job that you can. Also, try and keep a positive mindset and be compassionate with yourself when you feel dragged down.
Be Kind to Your Co-Workers
Jealousy is rooted in anger and fear. When people feel jealousy, they are suffering from insecurity. They are feeling insecure in their job, their financial situation, their intelligence, their skills, and so on. Striking back at them will only make them more defensive and likely to act out.
Many times, the best way to deal with a jealous co-worker is through kindness, positive reinforcement, and support. Take away their reason to say they dislike you. If this approach doesn’t work, make sure that your overtures are done both privately and publicly. Your public overtures may reduce support for the jealous co-worker and provide you with other working relationships you can rely upon.
Keep a Paper Trail
If all else fails, make sure you keep a record of the behavior of jealous co-worker(s) in case you need the situation becomes toxic. Keep any emails or other communication that illustrates the negative behavior and write descriptions of any other situations that arise.
Keeping a record is especially important in a work from home situation as the boss and uninvolved co-workers are less likely to experience the behavior first-hand. In addition, if the jealous co-worker is in the office, there may be a tendency to discriminate against the remote worker. Since many have a tendency to question the productivity, work ethic, and commitment of employees who work from home, it can be easier to undermine them.
Steps to Manage Jealousy When You’re the Jealous Co-Worker
No one is perfect or immune from jealousy. We all feel twinges from time to time, and as mentioned above, jealousy is an emotion that we try to cover up. We don’t like to admit that we feel it because it makes us feel inferior and ashamed. However, if we do feel it, there are steps we can employ to transform those negative feelings into something more constructive.
1. Identify the Causes of Your Jealousy
Sometimes we move to hostility without even understanding why we feel that way. If you don’t like a co-worker and are tempted to lash out at them, take some time to look inward at your motivation.
Alternatively, sometimes jealousy is more subtle and difficult to identify. This type of jealousy can sometimes be more insidious. You can notice this when you feel more inclined to accept the work or advice of professionals other than the individual you are jealous of, even if it’s the same.
2. Use the Reasoning Behind Your Jealousy to Guide You
The reasons for your jealousy can provide valuable insights into what you think is important and what you think you are lacking. Answer the question: If you don’t have the skill or characteristic that you covet in your co-worker, how do you attain it? Use this information to guide self-improvement and career development activities.
3. Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others
The fact is, we would never feel jealous if we didn’t compare ourselves to others and find ourselves wanting. Learn to avoid jealousy altogether by not comparing in the first place. Every person is different and unless the inequity is arising due to company policies, any comparison is futile. In addition, if you are focusing your attention on someone else, you might not notice the progress you are making and the goals you are achieving.
4. Affirm Yourself
Identify and practice acknowledging what you do best. Remind yourself of these skills and characteristics, especially before going into a difficult situation, to keep up your self-confidence. This will make you less likely to be triggered by your insecurities into feeling jealous.
A Last Word
In the end, the greatest lesson that jealousy can teach us is to rejoice in the accomplishments of our co-workers. This is whether you are the subject of jealous co-workers, or you, yourself, are the jealous co-worker. If your co-worker is jealous of you, it’s pretty difficult for anyone to stay hostile in the face of recognition and praise. If you are feeling jealous of your co-worker, try being sincerely happy for them, instead of angry and bitter. This attitude adjustment opens the way to be motivated and willing to learn and grow.
Do you have any tips to deal with jealous co-workers or friends? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and tips. We’d love to hear from you!
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