How to turn “green with envy” into a positive thing at work

Jealousy has a funny habit of popping up at the worst times, especially at work, when it seems like your coworkers are running circles around you. But instead of stewing in your rage, you should use your envy to boost your own productivity, and not try to avoid it altogether.

Jealousy has a funny habit of popping up at the worst times, especially at work, when it seems like your coworkers are running circles around you.

But instead of stewing in your rage, you should use your envy to boost your own productivity, and not try to avoid it altogether.

Do something about it: Invest in yourself

Remember, your career is in your hands. Take this as your cue to start becoming who you’ve always wanted to be, at work and beyond.

Shawn Kent Hayashi is an author, founder and CEO of The Professional Development Group LLC, a High Performing Team Consultant and coach, and Executive-in-Residence for the Lehigh University MBA Program.

After writing that you should first examine what you really want to strive for in your career,  she writes in The Muse that one of the questions you should ask yourself when you envy a colleague is: “What changes can I make?”

“Start with small steps like volunteering for different kinds of projects, speaking up when you have ideas, or signing up for a class to build out a new skill. It may be that you feel a bigger step is necessary,” she says. “If you realize that every leader at your organization has an MBA, look into local programs — and see if your company has any resources for tuition reimbursement.”

Pay attention to your own progress

Monster features commentary from Johanna Rothman, author of Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management. A coworker landed a job she was pursuing, but when she later started managing people who used to be her “peers,” they expressed their envy in how they communicated with her.

One of the tips she provides is that you should “track your accomplishments.”

“Do a month-by-month resume for the past year,” Rothman advises. “When I did this, I saw that there was a real theme: It was all about the project and nothing about the people. It was clear I really wasn’t ready to be a manager.”

Use it to learn more about yourself

Tanya Menon, an associate professor at the Ohio State University’s business school, and Leigh Thompson, a professor at Northwestern University’s management school, write in the Harvard Business Review that you should “pinpoint what makes you envious.”

After referencing the Pali term mudita (from an ancient Indian language), which they say Buddhists refer to as “rejoicing in the good fortune of others,” the authors write about how to access it: “Your envy reflex can be a useful source of information. Think of it as data on what you value.”

“The key is to recognize the circumstances and qualities in others that trigger your envy. Ask yourself if your feelings reveal what you are most insecure about lacking, they advise. “For example, do you envy people who learn new skills more quickly, earn higher salaries, or get praise from the boss?

“When you accurately identify the things that set you off, you can begin to tame envious feelings before they turn into counterproductive responses. You can also focus on improving yourself in the areas you’ve discovered you care about most.”

Jane Burnett|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at jburnett@theladders.com.