Have you ever been resentful that a friend had achieved something that you had desired yourself? Or, have you ever feared you might be losing a relationship or losing your influence with someone?

If so, then you have experienced jealousy. Jealousy is an emotional state wherein you experience a whole bunch of different negative feelings. You may feel resentful, angry, hurt, betrayed and anxious, which in turn can lead to depression, loneliness, or sadness. When you sense a loss of influence, you may even experience a sense of being excluded and/or being rendered powerless.

All in all, jealousy comes from a sense of fear, personal insecurity and poor self-esteem. It occurs when something or someone is perceived as a threat. This fear is most often imagined and could be related to fear of being abandoned, fear of losing a relationship or fear of losing your social standing and being shamed within your friendship circle.

Unfortunately, when an individual experiences jealousy, they often don’t deal with it well. They don’t take time to assess their feelings and instead engage in rather childish, vindictive or vengeful behaviour. We have all seen and experienced jealous behaviour within our families and our friendships, but what does this look like in the workplace and how should it be dealt with?

Although I am not suggesting managers become psychologists, in my view they must develop a strong ability to sense and read employee behaviour within their environment. Managers need to be able to recognize the signs of jealousy, to root out the causes and provide solutions so that teamwork, synergy and productivity prevail. Some of the following behaviours are recognized as resulting from a sense of jealousy.

First, you may note that one of your employees has overreacted to a situation and has lashed out at their colleagues with a verbal tirade that you may never have seen before. More than likely, this is out-of-the-ordinary behaviour for this individual. You will find the individual is emotional and under stress. At the same time, the individual will probably experience some sort of guilt because of their behaviour and then begin to experience feelings of shame. This vicious circle of escalating behaviour is destructive to workplace relationships.

On the other hand, when you observe that an employee has become withdrawn, take time to explore this behaviour further. For instance, you may note that your employee has started to work behind closed doors or they stop attending meetings. If they do attend a meeting, they are quiet and are not contributing to the extent they have done in the past. They are not as communicative. Whether they know it or not, these employees are going into “career survival” and withdraw to protect themselves and hide from their personal pain. If the behaviour is not dealt with, the employee may soon find him or herself ostracized and isolated and secretly looking for other employment.

I have also encountered employees who attempt to sabotage their workplace. They would never admit it and in some cases don’t even recognize their behaviour. Yet, in essence, employees who sabotage their workplace are attempting to extract revenge. This sabotage can be as subtle as being deliberately late on a report, failing to follow up or failing to act on a directive, to behaviour as obvious as crashing a critical computer software program that will derail business for a period of time.

Of course, the solution to resolving workplace jealousy is to recognize it quickly and to develop a strategy to deal with it. However, the overall strategy should be to create a work environment where there is no place for jealousy. The following tips will help you to deal with jealousy in the workplace.

Understand jealousy in the workplace – Managers need to pay more attention to how they may inadvertently create jealousy in the workplace in the first place. Understand that jealousy among employees will occur as a result of promotions, restructuring, work assignments, reporting, lines of authority, budget allocations and the various perks offered within the workplace.

Demonstrate a balanced sense of caring – While we all have favourites among our workers, managers must make every effort to be inclusive and to treat everyone with respect. Reach out and talk to all of your employees — don’t play favourites. Spend a few moments with them throughout the day, learn more about them, their families, their goals and ambitions. And don’t forget to share compliments.

Build a sense of shared purpose – One of the most important desires of every employee is to feel a sense of belonging. Take time to ensure that all of your employees share in the vision of your organization. Help them to understand how their job is important to your overall success. Communicate regularly through email newsletters or staff meetings, where possible. Remember, everyone wants to be on a winning team.

Anticipate employee reactions – When decisions are being made, include a discussion on strategy for implementation. Anticipate employee reactions, identify potential challenges and develop a strategy for dealing with them. For instance, when announcing a promotion, be sure to communicate with the unsuccessful individuals in a private and courteous way. Share the facts for all of your decisions.

Confront jealous behaviour – Many employees who experience jealousy are not able to name how they feel. As manager, you must confront the employee quickly and help them understand how their behaviour is tied to their emotions. Listen carefully and use straightforward language to help the person understand the impact of their behaviour on the workplace. If the situation seems overpowering and beyond your capability, then direct the individual to a counsellor. Nip things in the bud, so to speak.

Professional jealousy in the workplace is an insidious and invasive virus that attacks the wellbeing of your organization with disastrous results. It can create morale problems, not just with one employee but with your entire team. It can destroy teamwork and destroy careers. Yet, professional jealousy is difficult to deal with and requires a comprehensive strategy of employee engagement. Although jealousy will never be totally eradicated from the workplace, when managers adopt a positive attitude toward building a synergistic workplace, they will become more sensitive to employee feelings and will have the confidence to intervene quickly.

Barbara Bowes: Barbara Bowes is an accomplished speaker, trainer, coach, writer and professional strategist/consultant. Barbara is also the President of Legacy Bowes Group, Winnipeg’s premier HR Solutions provider. She can be reached at [email protected].