How employees can reframe jealousy to better themselves

Jealousy, says research, can be used to motivate and push employees out of negative thought patterns, motivating them to strategise better relationships.
By: | January 25, 2024

Jealousy can do more than turn saints into the seas, especially in the workplace. In fact, jealousy can easily breed contempt. A research team from two universities however, sought to work out just how jealousy could be used to address strife in the workplace.

Meena Andiappan, Associate Professor of Human Resources and Management, McMaster University; and Lucas Dufour, Assistant Professor of Human Resources Management and Organisational Behaviour, Toronto Metropolitan University, set out to lay the groundwork for understanding how jealousy develops in the workplace and how employees can reframe jealousy into useful motivation.

“Our work suggests employees are more likely to feel threatened when they feel insecure about their skillset, are highly dependent on their supervisors for validation and support, and have experienced mistrust in the past,” wrote the researchers in an article for The Conversation. “When employees lack confidence in their abilities, they may see colleagues as threats, leading to feelings of inadequacy.”

The researchers discussed the difference between high- and low-activation emotions, sharing that employees, who faced jealousy with different intensities (anger for high-activation vs sadness for low-activation), can tap into activation responses that can leverage seemingly negative situations to spur their positive reactions. This means figuring out how they can maintain valued relationships by ensuring their contributions to the workplace are valued, recognised, and rewarded, and then better communicate those aspects to their team, such as stepping up to take on leadership roles.

Next, Professors Andiappan and Dufour asked employees to explore their emotionality. “What does this relationship signify to your standing in your organisation? How dependent are you upon that relationship (whether with your boss or your colleague) and are there ways to mitigate this dependence?” both professors wrote.

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Jealousy can cause employees to reconsider their workplace relationships and ask if other relationships can be cultivated, in case the present one fails. This is where networking and relationship-building come into play — making it a surprising, but effective, buffer to workplace jealousy.