You're quietly chuffed, but somehow your co-workers seem none too pleased with this rapid turn of events. Oh no, what should you do now?
It's a workplace tale older than the disjointed last season of Mad Men. The playing field in the department was even, cozy and overall very friendly -- until so-and-so just had to go and do something incredibly AWESOME and SPECTACULAR. Suddenly, this employee's colleagues seem to spend the work day complaining about the unfairness of it all.
Now throw the Great Recession into the mix, where "good" jobs have grown more scarce and highly-competitive employees are running on stress, overtime fumes, and Funyuns. In this environment, co-worker jealousy can rear its ugly head over the seemingly smallest, and meaningless, of serendipitous workplace events when one employee is perceived to gain any sort of advantage over colleagues. Your co-worker says he or she is happy for you, but...
You really don't deserve it. Cough.
Ouch. Dealing with jealous colleagues is one of the most unpleasant, and unfortunately most common, aspects of workplace life. Navigating a nasty colleague situation can feel like a confusing minefield, particularly for newer hires who tend to fall on the rather unassuming side of the equation. Perhaps you're someone who takes care not to flaunt your workplace wins; you're simply doing your job and doing it very well (good for you!), but now you're faced with a co-worker who, seemingly overnight, doesn't like you anymore and proceeds to make it glaringly obvious at work. This co-worker greets you with all the warmth of an Arctic cold front whenever you breeze through the front door. Even worse, the cold front seems to be spreading to your other co-workers.
Congratulations, you're an insider suddenly on the outs.
It's highly disconcerting -- and more than a little bit awkward -- to be in this position. Only last week, you were considered one of the gang. This week? Well, enjoy your new-found status of being largely avoided, perhaps for the rest of your tenure at the company after that happened. (And you know what "that" is, right?)
Right. First, let's be honest here. Sometimes, co-worker jealousy has little to absolutely nothing to do with the work. You might have an enviable personal life, know instinctively how to dress with panache and flair, drive a great car, have an advanced degree, be young with your entire career ahead of you, be 40 years old but blessed with stellar social graces and communication skills, find that you can eat as much junk food as you want without gaining weight, have a bubbly personality, or simply have great hair.
Psst, who's your stylist?
Of course, your jealous co-worker won't ask where you get your hair done, because inquiring would be the sincerest form of flattery, and you're not about to get that from this work colleague. If anything, the only time your jealous co-worker ever mentions your hair is when you have a hair out of place on a very windy day.
And is that a gray hair? Pity.
But let's not split hairs, because a jealous colleague won't mind making your life harder on the job in various ways. Now the question is, what can you do about it? Here are seven quick tips for dealing with jealous co-workers:
1. Never tell them they're "just jealous." It's true that your co-worker is "just jealous," but saying it out loud at work ultimately undermines your case for being a likable person around the office. It may seem counter-intuitive not to verbalize the most obvious part of the problem, but doing so won't help matters. Practice copious amounts of self-editing.
2. Do some damage control. The jealous colleague will try to set you up to take you down, even if it's "merely" through harsh, under-the-breath commentary or backstabbing comments at the lunch table. If this co-worker tries to imply (wrongly) that you're lazy or half-assed with the work, then do the opposite by bringing your A-game to everything you do. If this colleague spreads the word that you're stuck up, then make a special effort to take an interest in others without going over the top. Smile. Often. Basically, diffuse the perception this co-worker is trying to spread about you as someone who doesn't deserve to be where you are professionally. Here, watch this clip. It's awesome.
3. Find an ally if you can. Chances are good that at least a few of your colleagues aren't buying what the jealous co-worker is selling about you. You may already have a few friends in the form of a superior or an employee in another department who's been there, done that. Experts advise that it's preferable to find an ally higher up the company food chain to quietly show a jealous colleague that you have friends in higher places. If you no longer have any allies on the job, then...have you explored the job market lately? It may be smart to start expanding your professional network.
4. Think about things from a jealous co-worker's perspective. I know, it's his or her problem, right? Ignore the haters. It's important, however, to look in the mirror and envision how a jealous co-worker might perceive you. It doesn't mean that you have to change, but this step can help better frame your response when you must deal with this colleague. This step requires assessing your workplace personality and going over conversations you've had with this co-worker. Have you bragged too much about your personal and/or professional accomplishments, or ever come across as narcissistic? Is there something you might have said, or done, to set this co-worker off? And how might you make amends if you would like to do so?
5. Have a sense of humor. Seeking out the lighter side of this woeful workplace scenario can save your sanity on the job. It doesn't mean joking about it openly in front of a jealous colleague, which could very well backfire on you (see Tip #2). Rather, imagine that you are starring in a workplace sitcom. Mentally insert a laugh track when necessary throughout the work day. Choose to find back-handed compliments and petty actions vaguely humorous (as much as you can muster, anyway), because if you don't laugh you might want to cry. Really, the "laugh track" thing does work!
6. Document it. On a serious note, it may be advisable in some cases to (quietly) take notes on the most egregious workplace manifestations of co-worker jealously that might be impeding your job progress. It's one thing not to be invited to join a group of jealous colleagues at the break room lunch table; it's quite another to be actively sabotaged or undercut on a project out of pure jealously.
7. Always remember that you're a good person. An unremitting undercurrent of workplace jealously can start to take a toll on your self esteem. Jealous colleagues can make you question yourself, underrate or undersell your skills and abilities, and make you debate in your own head whether you've truly earned all of your accomplishments. You don't need to start this debate with yourself; your co-workers are already happy to have it on your behalf. Hold your head high, be kind to yourself, have a Stuart Smalley moment if you must, and focus on the work. The rest of us have faith in you, and we would most certainly invite you to sit at our lunch table. Hugs.
In sum, I don't envy you the privilege of dealing with a jealous colleague. Is there other (read: better) advice to offer? Sure. Please feel free to share your stellar tips on how to slay the green-eyed workplace monster. I, for one, promise not to feel jealous that you managed to think of it first.
If you still feel disrespected on the job, check out my October 2015 blog post entitled "R-E-S-P-E-C-T: When A Co-worker Doesn't Respect You." And just in time for 2017, here a more-recent post about Dealing with Lying Co-workers in the Post-Fact Workplace.