The perils of jealousy at work

Jealousy at work is a terrible affliction. For my part, I find it is crushing because it significantly impedes progress toward the work objective. As a project leader, this is stifling. And secondly, it is damaging to the people involved, both from a career and reputational standpoint and in the case of personal well being. 


I have experienced professional jealousy in one form or another since my undergraduate degree, and in every job I have had since. It seems to be a naturally occurring disaster in the workplace. I haven't experienced a time when professional jealousy did not lead to destruction in one form or another: the ending of a friendship; leaving a role prematurely to escape; ending employment; and, project failure. 

It has been my natural instinct to ignore professional jealousy and to focus on the work, but it is like a poison that without antidote will slowly pervade the day until it kills everything it reaches. In truth, I do not know wholly how to address it. 

Van Morrison wrote about this horror in his song Professional Jealousy.

Van Morrison

Van Morrison

As in his song, sometimes all you have is your integrity. Keep standing up, delivering good work on time, treating others with respect and modelling your values. You have to accept you cannot control the behaviour of others. 

Is it happening to you? 

The first step in mitigating professional jealousy is knowing when it is happening. I have had experiences where I think I know the extent of the professional jealousy, limiting it to a certain segment of the workplace. By underestimating its reach I wasn't able to effectively manage it, nor protect myself from it. Sometimes it is lurking in the unlikeliest of places. 

Here are some signals that it may be happening: 

  • People are complaining to your boss about you or your team about trivial matters
  • Information is being withheld from you that puts you at a disadvantage or prevents you from doing your job
  • Lies and rumours are circulating about you, your work, your team and your resources
  • You are insulated from senior leadership and key stakeholders, preventing you from effectively handling change management
  • You notice a tense undercurrent in meetings and communications
  • Key decision items and approvals are being withheld
  • You are unable to secure necessary resources, either financial or human capital, in order to be successful 
  • There is a lot of "noise" thrown at you to distract you from your mission 
  • Project governance is eroding 
  • You may experience bullying, harassment or sabotage
  • You are feeling burned out

When it's your boss

In one of my worst experiences with professional jealousy encountered with a leader in the organization who had authority over my position, the intense resistance to organizational change and the professional jealousy was leading to unhealthy disruption. To hide the leader's own deficits in managing this situation and the fear of being out-performed, this dysfunction was fobbed off as a personality conflict between a peer and I. 


The reason I bring this is up is that is a huge disservice to women. Professional jealousy and organizational resistance are real business problems that erode corporate effectiveness. Downplaying them as a petty conflict between women is extremely demeaning and damaging to women in the workplace.

Obviously professional jealousy you encounter with a superior is a very high-risk situation, since this person has authority over your work, your position and your compensation. This topic is one that comes to me a lot from career-minded women who are looking for validation and advice. Competition between women for top positions is fierce because there are so few women at the top. 

Chances are that the better you are at your job, and the more successful that you are, the more likely you are to experience professional jealousy. For women, it is a key driver of the double-edged sword of professional success - that success and likability are negatively correlated for women.

Between moms

Before I sign off, I want to make a connection to the same type of jealousy in our personal lives. The social norms on motherhood today are very destructive to women. The pressure to mother in a certain way is intense and emotionally difficult. Although not immune to it, I think one of the benefits of waiting until 30 to have my first baby was that I could wade through the advice that matters and the garbage advice.

Take care of yourself

One of the best defenses against jealousy in your world is self-awareness and confidence. In your heart and in your mind, you know whether you are acting with integrity or not. This truth can shore up your resilience so that you can withstand the trauma of professional jealousy at work and the kind of greedy jealousy that also creeps into our personal relationships. 

The other best defense is self-care. Taking care of your heart, mind and body will make sure you are up to coping with the stresses at work. Make sure you are filling your bucket somehow. Spend time in reflection. Make sure you are eating healthy foods, sleeping and exercising. 

In deciding how to address the professional jealousy you are experiencing, consider doing a SWOT analysis to understand where your strengths and opportunities will carry you and what threats and weaknesses will undermine your position to advocate for yourself. In the end, being right is less important than your personal well being and finding work that ignites you. 

Not one of us is immune to feeling jealousy. It's how you deal with it that defines who you are. Have gratitude for your own talents and accomplishments. Be confident in your own choices. Look on the talents and accomplishments of others with pride and congratulations. Examine whether they are something you truly aspire to, or whether you are merely wondering if the grass is greener. Find joy in your heart for the people around you. 

If you are feeling the pressure from professional jealousy at work, reach out for help. Consider your employee family assistance program, talking to your doctor or counsellor, or open up to a mentor, family member or friend. 

Haters are going to hate as Taylor Swift reminds us. So take care out there. 

Much love, 


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