Managing professional jealousy: navigating challenges and fostering growth

Self-awareness, self-improvement, gratitude, open communication and a growth mindset can help you tackle inevitable encounters with jealousy constructively and create a more positive, supportive work environment in the process

Tariq Al-Musawi's avatar
16 Nov 2023
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Professional jealousy is a common challenge for active academics. This feeling can take different forms. But no matter if you’re feeling envious of a colleague’s success or are on the receiving end of jealousy from others yourself, it’s important to address these emotions constructively.

Jealousy is not all bad – it has its pros (motivation, competition and productivity) as well as its downsides (negative effects on the work environment, stress and mistrust).

In some cases, professional jealousy can be a motivator to improve one’s skills and performance. It can push individuals to work harder and achieve their goals in an attempt to outperform their peers. This healthy competition can lead to innovation and creativity in the workplace, and when individuals strive to be better than their colleagues – to be, say, more productive – it can benefit the organisation as a whole.

In excess, though, professional jealousy can create a toxic work environment. It can lead to tension, conflict and even sabotage among colleagues, which can be detrimental to productivity and overall morale. Feeling jealous when a colleague succeeds can cause an individual stress, anxiety and burnout, which can negatively affect their mental and physical health.

If jealousy erodes trust and damages working relationships within a team, this can hinder collaboration and teamwork. When employees are overly focused on outdoing their colleagues, they may lose sight of the organisation’s broader goals and objectives. Instead of supporting and helping each other grow, jealous colleagues might undermine one another’s career opportunities, which can ultimately limit their own professional development.

So, here are tips to harness the positive elements and minimise the negative, based on my experiences in the workplace at Al-Mustaqbal University.

Practise self-awareness

It’s normal to experience jealousy from time to time, but it’s essential to be self-aware and honest about your emotions. So, the first step in addressing professional jealousy is to recognise and acknowledge your feelings. Understanding why you’re feeling this way can help you work through it.

Focus on self-improvement

Instead of dwelling on your jealousy, channel your energy into self-improvement and personal growth. Use the success of others as motivation to enhance your own skills, knowledge and performance. Set clear professional goals and take steps to achieve them.

Practise gratitude

Remind yourself of your accomplishments and the things you’re grateful for in your career. Gratitude can help shift your perspective away from what you lack to what you have achieved and possess. It’s a powerful tool for combating jealousy.

Communicate openly

If you sense jealousy from colleagues or teammates, try to foster open and honest communication. Discuss your concerns and feelings with them in a non-confrontational manner. Clear communication can help resolve misunderstandings and build better working relationships.

Seek support

Talk to friends, family or a trusted mentor about your feelings of jealousy. Sharing your emotions with someone you trust can provide a different perspective and emotional support.

Avoid comparisons

Comparing yourself with others can be a significant source of professional jealousy. Remember that everyone’s journey is unique, and success is not a one-size-fits-all concept. Focus on your path and your progress rather than measuring yourself against others.

Cultivate a growth mindset

Embrace the idea of a growth mindset, which is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work. This mindset can help you view setbacks as opportunities for growth rather than reasons for jealousy.

Celebrate others’ success

Instead of resenting the accomplishments of your colleagues, celebrate their victories and support their achievements. When you genuinely celebrate others, you create a more positive and collaborative work environment.

Stay professional

Regardless of the jealousy you may experience, remain professional and ethical in your actions. Avoid gossip, undermining others or any behaviour that could damage your reputation.

Consider a change

If professional jealousy persists and negatively impacts your well-being, it might be time to consider a change in your career or work environment. Sometimes, moving to a different role, institution or company can alleviate these feelings.

Professional jealousy is a challenging, albeit common, emotion to deal with. By practising self-awareness, focusing on self-improvement and maintaining a positive attitude, you can address these feelings in a constructive manner and create a healthier and more supportive work environment for yourself and your colleagues.

Tariq J. Al-Musawi is associate professor in water and environment engineering in the department of building and construction techniques engineering at Al-Mustaqbal University, Iraq.

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