How to Root Out Envy Before it Rots Your Office
The office is a hotbed for envy--certain employees will get bigger raises than others, some will find themselves getting outperformed, and others will just have lower self-worth and naturally become envious of your top talent.
Envy is also a dangerous emotion, because no one will freely admit that they are jealous of another colleague. Yet envy is "ubiquitous" throughout every office, Maurice Schweitzer, Wharton professor of operations and information management, tells Knowledge@Wharton.
Schweitzer says leaders can aggravate the problem by hosting workplace performance competitions, employee-of-the-month awards, and other activities that become a forum for comparison. "We might think that our new job promotion isn't a big deal, that it shouldn't create distance between us and others. But when [colleagues] come into our new corner office, they are encoding that information and will feel envy," he tells the business school blog.
Jeff Klein, executive director of the Wharton Leadership Program, says if your culture revolves around making performance-related results public, people will become envious of the people ranked at the top. "The danger here is that envy goes from professional competition to interpersonal conflict," he says.
How can leaders defeat the green-eyed monster? Read some tips below.
Create transparent reward systems
Leaders should "emphasize people's fair treatment, either procedurally or personally," says Jennifer Mueller, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Business Administration. When giving raises, which are inherently envy producers, you need to explain exactly how decisions are made, and have good reasons for them. "The reasons should not be arbitrary, and there should be some standard of fairness," she tells Knowledge@Wharton. Schweitzer says promotions should be handled in a similar fashion; if leaders are clear about how each employee can move up within the company, envy will become manageable.
Focus on unity
Instead of having many different team identities, stress the importance of the company being a united entity. Your company, at its heart, should be composed of one team with one goal--not different teams with different levels of importance. Klein says you should create a culture with "collective goals of an organization that employees are going to share and contribute to. When teams within organizations start to focus almost solely on their individual team goals and less on the organizations' strategy and goals, that's when feelings of envy get exacerbated. It becomes 'us versus them,' when in truth, it's all 'us.'"
Compete with competitors, not teammates.
Klein believes that if productivity competitions aren't internally focused, they can be a great morale booster. "If teams in an organization are uniting to take on a competitor--Coke versus Pepsi--as opposed to another internal division or team, you get the same excitement, the same adrenalin, that comes with competition--but without some of the destructive effects," he says.