Interpersonal Envy in Competitive Organizations and the “Search Inside Yourself” (SIY) Antidote

Workplace envy is rarely discussed, although it is a logical outcome of competition for scarce resources:  Recognition, advancement, power, reputation, compensation in explicit or implicit organizational “tournaments.”

Jayanth Narayanan

Jayanth Narayanan

National University of Singapore’s Jayanth Narayanan, Kenneth Tai, and Daniel McAllister broached the near-taboo of workplace envy as an inevitable outgrowth of social comparison and related “cognitive dissonance” in attempting to self-regulate or return to emotional and equity “homeostasis.”

Daniel McAllister

Daniel McAllister

They differentiated malicious envy from benign envy and argue that the latter can drive performance through emulating admired outcomes.

This process, called firgun in Hebrew, is characterized by happiness, envy, and support of others, and is positively related to organizational success.
Mudita in Buddhist texts, refers to similar feelings of vicarious joy at another’s success and good fortune.

Hidehiko Takahashi

Hidehiko Takahashi

Narayan and team posit that envy is pain at another’s good fortune, and Hidehiko Takahashi’s team at Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences demonstrated that the social-emotional pain of envy is a variation of the physical pain experience.

Their fMRI study found that the emotional pain of workplace envy is physically manifested in activation of the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex.

Nathan DeWall

Nathan DeWall

As such, Nathan DeWall of University of Kentucky and colleagues reported that Tylenol™ reduces behavioral and neural responses associated with social pain in two fMRI studies.

Narayanan argues that envy exerts its differential effect on workplace behavior through each individual’s specific:

  • Core self-evaluations (self-esteem, self-efficacy, locus of control, and neuroticism),
  • Referent cognitions” regarding warmth, likeability, and competence of the envied  person
  • Perceived organizational support

Workplace envy, they argue, can affect:

  • Social undermining
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Job performance

Narayanan and team proposed that those with higher self-esteem are less prone to negative workplace behaviors when experiencing on-the-job envy.

They propose that people are less likely to socially undermine the envied individual when the envied person is viewed as both warm-likeable and competent.

Similarly, they suggest that people who think their organization values them and their work, and supports their work and career development efforts are less likely to decrease job performance when envious at work.

Chade-Meng Tan

Chade-Meng Tan

Search Inside YourselfGoogle’s Jolly Good Fellow ChadeMeng Tan proposes the mindfulness-based program “Search Inside Yourself” (SIY) as a way to self-manage workplace envy and other painful social experiences, by developing skills in:

  • Trained attention
  • Self-knowledge and self-mastery
  • Creating useful mental habits.

-*How do you manage workplace envy when you notice it in yourself or others?


Twitter:   @kathrynwelds
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©Kathryn Welds


2 thoughts on “Interpersonal Envy in Competitive Organizations and the “Search Inside Yourself” (SIY) Antidote

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