Say your coworker just received the promotion you were hoping for (and are better qualified for). You feel a tide of envy rising in you but surprise and embarrassment, too, because you consider your coworker not just a colleague but a friend.
People have a natural tendency to compare ourselves to others, especially if it is someone—like a coworker—who seems similar to you.
"By comparing yourself to others, you have a benchmark. It’s a part of being a social animal,” says Stephen Lee, a Ph.D. student at the Michael G. Foster School of Business at the University of Washington who studies how employees interact with each other at work.
You won’t be able to suppress envy and jealousy—they are feelings, after all—but you can make good choices in how to manage them.
Understand the difference between jealousy and envy
So what are envy and jealousy, exactly, and what’s the difference between them?
“Envy occurs when we wish we had something that someone else has, like skills, connections or other resources,” says Michael D. Johnson, Ph.D., The Boeing Company Professor of Business Management at the Michael G. Foster School of Business.
“Jealousy, on the other hand, occurs when we are afraid of losing an important relationship, such as when a supervisor prefers a new coworker over you and you ‘lose’ your special relationship,” says Johnson.
Jealousy also involves insecurity, because you only feel threatened about losing a relationship if you don’t feel secure in that relationship.
This doesn’t mean that jealousy only happens to insecure people, though; the insecurity is about the relationship, says Johnson.
Analyze your feelings without ruminating on them
If you understand why you feel envious or jealous, it can decrease your stress and also help you choose how to respond.