The Incredible “Sulk” – Four Ways to Overcome Envy in the Workplace

The Incredible Hulk, one of the Marvel Comics superheros featured in the recently released film The Avengers, is a raging beast capable of great fury and destruction. Whenever the mild-mannered Dr. Bruce Banner experiences certain negative emotions like fear, anger, or terror, he succumbs to those feelings and transforms into the Hulk, leaving a wake of destruction in his path.

Envy has the same potential for damage in the workplace by transforming you into The Incredible “Sulk” – someone with a sullen, silent, inwardly focused negative self energy that wreaks havoc on yourself and others. Envy is a feeling of discontent or covetousness a person feels in regards to another person’s success, advantages, or possessions, and causes you to sulk, feel sorry for yourself, and make you downright miserable. If left unchecked, envy creates resentment toward others, leads to fractured relationships, and causes low morale and a loss of productivity in a team environment.

I coach others, and have personally used, the following strategies to overcome envy in the workplace:

  • Don’t play the comparison game—The number one way to make yourself miserable with envy is to compare yourself to other people. There will always be someone who appears to have it better than you, whether it’s that recent promotion, title, new office, or cool new project at work. In addition to not rightfully acknowledging the successes or achievements of others, when you compare yourself to others you’re actually denying or discounting all the wonderful gifts, talents, and abilities you bring to the table. Focus on “blooming where you’re planted” and don’t waste energy by obsessing about what other people are doing.
  • Count your blessings—I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.” Envy robs us of happiness because we get focused on what we don’t have, and that negative emotion leads to a downward spiral in our thinking. I’ve found it helpful to periodically make a list of all the things I’m grateful for in life because it’s an eye-opening experience to realize how good I’ve got it. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude through prayer, meditation, or other spiritual practices is also helpful in combatting envy.
  • Avoid gossip—Gossip is the conduit for envy to poison a whole team. Human nature tends to gravitate toward the negative anyway, and gossip is an easy way for people to seek solace and comfort from others. Rather than being cathartic and healing, gossip is divisive and destructive and it doesn’t do anyone any good to talk about people behind their backs. We’d all be better off if we remembered and practiced some of the first words of wisdom from our parents: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  • Focus on personal growth—When feelings of envy start to crop up, it’s a perfect time for self-examination. Ask yourself why you’re feeling envious and don’t stop at the first answer; keep asking “why?” For example, suppose I’m feeling envious of my neighbors because they have an RV Camper and I don’t. Why am I feeling that way? Because I wish I could go on camping trips like they do. Why do I wish I could go on camping trips? Because I want to nurture and deepen family relationships. Why do I want to do that? I want my children to have great experiences and memories of their childhood. Ok, so that’s a great reason…now what I can I do to accomplish that? Maybe I can’t financially afford an RV, but I can certainly do other things to accomplish my goal of creating family memories. I’ve taken the negative emotion of envy that had the potential to damage the relationship with my neighbors and turned it into a positive step in my own personal growth.

Envy is an incredibly destructive force that leads to personal unhappiness and negativity within a team. Taking a positive, proactive approach to identifying and rooting out envy will help you lead a more satisfied and productive life at work and keep you from turning into The Incredible Sulk.

Have you dealt with envy in the workplace? What did you do? Feel free to share your experiences and comments.

6 Comments on “The Incredible “Sulk” – Four Ways to Overcome Envy in the Workplace

  1. Great post, Randy! You are so right about the destructive power of envy, both in the workplace and in our lives. To your great suggestions might I add, “Be aware when envy strikes.” I’ve noticed some folks aren’t aware of when they have an “envy attack” and just the act of recognizing it as such can be huge. (love the Incredible Sulk!)

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    • Excellent point Jamie! It’s hard to fix a problem if you don’t even know you have one!

      Thanks for your great insight. Have a good day.

      Randy

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  2. Curious what your thoughts are on how to help mitigate that as the manager. What systems are best to put in to play? How best to dissipate it once it becomes part of the culture of a small organization or business unit?

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    • Hi Selena,

      I think it takes diligent work by the leader on multiple fronts. I think you have to have “courageous conversations” with those individuals who practice this sort of behavior to let them know that it’s not acceptable. I think you also have to approach it from the large group perspective of making sure the values and norms are clearly established, agreed upon, and everyone committed to holding each other accountable to acting in alignment with those values. Finally, I think it’s also helpful to keep focused on the positive and redirect peoples’ energy away from these negative things. Not sweeping it under the rug and ignoring it, but dealing with it openly and then moving on and not getting stuck in the muck and mire.

      Hope that helps,

      Randy

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  3. I’m applauding for these strategies, Randy, because envy is such a toxic emotion and gossip can spread it around like wildfire. I agree that we should focus on “blooming where we’re planted,” but sometimes we can only bloom so much in certain places. If you don’t feel the sunshine that comes from being valued at work and your assignments no longer feed your passion, find other places in your life (volunteer opportunities, hobbies, etc.) where you get plenty of room to give, grow and stretch. For me, every time I volunteer even an hour of my time, I come away from that experience with gratitude, and that’s an excellent antidote for envy. Thanks for such constructive advice!

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    • Thanks for your wonderful insight Kathy! Investing yourself in volunteer activities is a great antidote to envy and jealousy, and if you’re not able to bloom any more where you’re planted, perhaps you need to look for a new garden!

      Take care,

      Randy

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