Business Today

The Green-Eyed Monster

What to do when you're overcome with envy.
Team BT   New Delhi     Print Edition: May 6, 2018
The Green-Eyed Monster

Envying someone for what they have or what they've done is an intense emotion that everyone goes through at some point in their lives. It can involve feeling absolute pleasure in the very thought of harm coming to the subject of envy and even going so far as to cause it. One may not like to acknowledge it because of how unworthy it makes us feel, but we need not be ashamed of envy.

Shankar Vedanta, journalist, podcaster and expert in human behaviour and social science, in his podcast Hidden Brain, says that envy should be recognised for being a social comparison tool that it is. We are hard-wired to notice these, as are most animals, because we need to know our place in the social hierarchy. It should also make someone strive for qualities the envied person possesses.

However, envy can go very wrong, including in the workplace where inequalities are rife. Someone gets privileges we think we deserve instead of them; someone gets paid more; a colleague has too meteoric a rise in the company, and so on. Envy is so powerful an emotion that if not kept in check, it can make the person who feels it unhappy. Too much time and energy is spent seething in resentment and it becomes an excuse for not working - there is little point in putting one's best foot forward when a chosen few are favoured. Far from being a natural tool for social comparison, envy begets low self esteem.

A manager who has too many employees wrapped up in this deadly emotion must repair the situation. The best way is to carefully prevent it, skirting around situations of direct comparisons that put one person at a disadvantage. Special tasks would need to be crafted and given out to anyone who feels resentful to allow for a chance to gain better self esteem. At the same time, a manager would need to avoid excessive praise and unbeatable appraisals where they are not deserved.

Ultimately, the ball is in the 'envier's' court. No one is immune to envy but everyone has the power to stop this emotion from taking over and becoming destructive. If left to spiral into a deeper feeling, envy can become a big destroyer of relationships.

End With a Point

If all communication at the workplace were to end with a specific action point, much fewer meetings would be needed and much more work would get done. If you look back at conversations with colleagues, meetings and e-mails, you'll be surprised at how often they end 'in the air', with no one being quite sure what the next step is and who's going to take it. If the end of a meeting or work-related conversation could end on specifics rather than over-detailing in the beginning and middle, everyone would make much more headway.

For example, someone on your team comes up to you with the complaint that he or she wants to move to another location. If it's not out of the question, say something to take it forward. Instead of "Okay, we'll see", an affirmative response such as, "I'll discuss it with the others and come up with some options", will be more useful and appreciated.


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