Shelby L. Graves, MPH, CHES
Overcoming Office Envy
Originally published with Babes Who Hustle.
I’ve been fortunate to study and work fields that are female-driven. My professors in undergrad were all talented women I look up to, still to this day. The majority of my professors and research coordinators in grad school were driven women. My first “big-girl job” was supervised by a badass woman. My immediate team members at each of my jobs for the past four years have been remarkable women. The bureau directors within my current organization are—you guessed it—women.
Though women in the workplace tend to form friendships with fellow colleagues more quickly than their male counterparts, that doesn’t mean they don’t struggle to overcome office envy. Women often have to balance the line between maintaining workplace friendships and advancing their own careers. When you know your coworkers both personally and professionally, it can be difficult not to be struck with pangs of jealousy from time to time, due to your exposure to what seems like other people’s consistent home and career successes. This feeling can be compounded when working in environments that are highly competitive for job security, such as grant funding or tenure.
In the everyday office, envy may arise from a coworker receiving recognition at a large staff meeting; a teammate’s ideas being selected for new projects; a colleague’s work being published; promotions, raises or office space upgrades; personal successes, such as engagements, pregnancy, new homes. or lavish vacations.
Even when you recognize it, it’s difficult to take a step back and check yourself whenever these negative emotions arise. When my career started, I felt like I was hustling to make a name for myself; at the same time, I felt as if I was falling behind the curve while everyone else in the office was getting promotions or buying new homes. This can make it feel impossible not to get swept into the envy trap.
Opening up to friends about my experience led me to testing out techniques to combat office envy. I found they not only worked, but better yet, could also be used to lift up everyone in the office.
1. Complete an “envy check-in”
Look out for these signs: You’ve started being a bit harsh (even internally) with coworkers; you feel tempted to distract from someone’s accomplishment with your own self-promotion; you experience Freudian slips in reaction to positive news or positive talk about an officemate; once a coworker receives praise, you start fixating on your lack of recognition.
If these things sound familiar, you may have been bitten by the envy bug. To complete an envy check-in, take a few moments to reflect on how you’re feeling. Try to pinpoint where these feelings are coming from, and ask yourself whether or not your criticism of your coworker(s) is fair and constructive. If the criticism is insensitive or unfounded, then start thinking of ways you can reframe it. Once you’ve identified whether or not you’re feeling jealous, you can move forward in a more productive manner.
2. Remember your worth
Remember your worth and take note of it. Sit down and write out your most notable accomplishments, such as your degree or a significant project you recently completed. Review your current progress on work-related goals, such as mastering new software or reaching a sales quota. Reflect on the unique lens your experience brings to the table. Top this list off with five things that make you a valuable employee.
Things you should leave off this list are: past failures (unless you learned an extraordinary lesson from it), your coworker’s recent success (e.g. promotion, raise, new desk), or reasons you should have received “x achievement” over them. Focus on all the things you’re doing right, what you’re working to improve, and how excited you are to implement your own project ideas in the future.
3. Recognize the worth of your coworkers
It’s a harsh reality – sometimes people that don’t deserve promotions end up getting them. Don’t let it distract from your own worth or the worth of your coworkers (yes, even the one that got the promotion you wanted). Even when you’re feeling underappreciated or like you’ll never get ahead, it’s important to take stock of your coworkers’ exceptional qualities. Essentially each member of your team and each coworker in your office will have talents that lend themselves to the ultimate goals of your organization. If you’re having a hard time thinking this through, I encourage writing some of this out as well. You will discover ways in which your strengths compliment their deficits and vice versa.
4. Create your own space—celebrate everyone else’s
This is where you get to move forward and grow like crazy. Once you’ve nailed down your talents and your coworkers’, you can start leaving workplace envy in the dust—where it belongs. You have unique talents that enable you to do your job in ways other people simply can’t. The same is true of your coworkers. There’s plenty of work to go around and there is plenty of space for all of us at the table. Find your own space to shine and help others to do the same.
There are brilliant, talented people in this world. Sometimes we get to work with them. I’m lucky to have a consistent track record of stellar teammates. Once I started recognizing everyone’s talent, I was able to learn from each of them, rather than sit and sulk about not being in their position. Now that I’m further into my career, I’m able to teach others as well. Helping one another take the next step is the only way we all get ahead. And when we’re all moving forward, we won’t need to waste time comparing ourselves and taking steps back.