Are employees a little too green with envy?

Connections with co-workers can help prevent undermining behaviour, finds study
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/08/2011

It happens all the time in the workplace — a colleague is promoted from the cubicle to the office; two co-workers have lunch together every day; or an employee is presented with a reward. The result is envy. And if envious individuals are unable to reduce their feelings, it can lead to undermining social behaviour such as malicious gossip, people giving the silent treatment, information being withheld or work being deliberately slowed down.

However, employees are less likely to act on their feelings of envy for two reasons — if they socially identify with their co-workers and if norms discourage the undermining behaviour, according to a new study.

“Social identification is almost like a glue, an antidote, so it humanizes people,” said Michelle Duffy, a professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and lead author of Why and When Envy Leads to Social Undermining: Development and Tests of a Social Context Framework.