Professional Envy at work. Why it’s so bad and my easy four-step cure
I enjoy the chance to coach with ‘negative’ states and emotions. Things like anger, resentment, guilt, anxiety and so on. In fact, if you’ve worked with me personally, you’ll probably know that I’ll often be celebrating those emotions and states as we discover them. This is not because I’m completely weird (no, really, it’s not) but because these are often what I call “signal” states. That is, they’re a great sign that there is some real potential for change and development. So long as you can address what’s causing them.
Take Anger for example. Anger is a great sign that one of your personal boundaries has been crossed, or that something or someone very important to you is at risk.
Envy, resentment and jealousy (and other emotions or feelings in that same group), are also really good signals of some potential opportunity for growth and greater fulfilment.
One of the negative states or emotions that sometimes comes up in my coaching work with leaders and team-members is a sense of what I call “professional envy”.
Professional Envy is where a person is acutely aware of the success that somebody else is enjoying – and really doesn’t like it.
Team members may feel that another person (or team) is getting too much attention from the boss, or receiving too many rewards or accolades for their work. Board Members may feel that another director is getting too much credit, being a bit of a glory boy, “Has it all handed to him on a plate” or already has too big a slice of the pie.
Experts, consultants and qualified people often seem to experience Professional Envy at the apparent ubiquity of somebody they perceive as a rival. I’ll hear things like: “Everywhere I go, there she is, being idolised again!”
The problem with Professional Envy, from an individual point of view, is that it sucks all of the energy out of getting things done and spoils the chance for enjoying what is happening. From an organisational point of view, Professional Envy can lead to a deterioration of effective working relationships, to passive resistance towards other people’s initiatives or even to outright sabotage of important projects.
If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of professional envy, here’s my easy four-step cure.
The first step is to recognise professional envy as one of my ‘signal emotions’.
Take a moment to get some clarity around who is the object of your professional envy, and notice what you’re experiencing and how that feels. Then begin to label that experience as a sign that there’s an opportunity here for you to grow and develop towards much more fulfilment for you personally.
Second, you need to know that professional envy is a sign that you are not achieving all that you want to achieve.
Deep down, you probably already know this. You may have found yourself blocked from achieving what you originally set out to achieve. Circumstances may not have been in your favour. You may have experienced set-backs, failures or a crisis of confidence. In a way, it doesn’t really matter what your current circumstances are. The most important thing is just to recognise that – right now – you are not doing all that you want to be doing.
The third step is to shift your focus away from the object of your professional envy, and back onto you and what you want for yourself.
Don’t be saying stuff like: “Oh, I want them to fall flat on their face.” It’s understandable to want that, and it might be funny to see, but it won’t really help you any.
Instead, put your attention onto what you do want, for you. Allow yourself to dream big again.
There’s a couple of possible outcomes from this step, which fall broadly into these two categories:
- You realise that there is some really ambitious stuff that you’d like to be working towards;
- You realise that you’re actually reasonably happy not bothering to be achievement-focussed and quite like things as they are.
The fourth step is to take the outputs from step 3 and begin working on them.
This is the most powerful part of the process. Even if you’re not entirely clear what it is that you’re ambitious about. Or if you’re not entirely sure how to be content just as you are. Just start working on it.
It’s a bit like what Buddhists call “entering the stream”. You’ve taken a decision to drop the things that were not helping you. Instead, you’re dipping your foot into the wider current of potential energy that now starts to ripple and become available to you as a flowing force.
Experience with clients suggests that these four steps alone are not enough to achieve that big thing nor to re-discover that contentment. They are however, almost always enough in themselves to completely vanish that sense of Professional Envy.
Good luck, and let me know how you get on.