Jealousy at work is generally found when an employee feels he/she is losing a person's favor to someone else.
Jealousy is sometimes confused with envy but they are not quite the same. Both originate from a feeling of lacking and losing. A jealous person and an envious person both feel they are losing the competition to someone else.
The following example will show the difference between envy and jealousy at work.
Maria has been one of the top employees at the department, everyone knows that the boss respects her and supports her. Another one of the employees – Jim - doesn't understand what the boss sees in Maria. In Jim's eyes Maria doesn't do much, other than run the budget report at the end of the year. Jim wishes Maria to fail so everyone can see that she's an incompetent. Jim is feeling envious of Maria.
The boss has hired a new assistant: Erick. The boss seems to be spending a lot of time with Erick, showing him around, meeting with him to discuss files and reports, asking him for his opinion during meetings and just plain talking him up to whomever cares to listen. Maria listens and feels that she may be losing ground to Erick. She no longer feels the star of the department, she feels her boss is no longer paying attention to her and supporting her like before. Maria blames Erick for that and feels that it's only because he's the new kid on the block that he's getting all the attention. Maria is feeling jealous of Erick.
In Jim's case, he is competing with Maria. She's the object of his envy, she has what he doesn't have and would like to have.
In Maria's case, the object of her jealousy is her boss, whose attention she feels she's losing to Erick, the new employee. She's competing with Erick for her boss' attention.
Both envy and jealousy share the roots of insecurity and unhealthy competition. They can grow in intensity until they turn into conflict in the workplace.
In the example, Jim is already wishing Maria to fail, he's not far from starting rumors about Maria's incompetence or even taking steps for her to fail sooner with his help.
Or in Maria's case, she's already dismissing the new guy's skills and experience by attributing his success to the fact that he is new. She may also start rumors and even set the new guy up for failure to prove her point.
Where is the boss in all of this? What can the boss do to prevent or stop this potential conflict at work?
For one, he needs to make sure he's not indulging in favoritism at work, with Maria and now with Erick.
He also needs to make sure that the rumor mill doesn't fed with gossip arising from envy or jealousy at work.
And lastly, he needs to go restore an environment where unhealthy competition is discouraged. He needs to go out of his way to make sure everyone knows where everyone stands at any point in time, to reduce speculation and misinterpretations.
Read more articles about Conflict in the Workplace