Educational Leadership

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Conflict, Jealousy, and Envy in Organizations

Conflict, Jealousy and Envy in Organizations


In recent years, social scientists have begun to examine the constructs of interpersonal jealousy and envy. Typically, the focus of this research has been on romantically based jealousy and envy (Harris & Christenfeld, 1996). Also, there is a growing interest in how these negative emotions may underlie domes-tic violence (Salovey, 1991; White & Mullen, 1989; Delgado & Bond, 1993). The notions of jealousy and envy, however, have unique relevance for the work-place. For example, it is commonly observed that violence and aggression in the workplace, which may be increasing in recent years (Baron & Neuman, 1996; Elliott & Jarrett, 1994; Lusk, 1992; Neuman & Baron, 1998; Regdon,

2Correspondence should be directed to Robert P. Vecchio, University of Notre Dame, Department of Management, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA; e-mail:

1994; Stuart, 1992), are sometimes a consequence of such negative emotions as coworker jealousy and envy (CDC, 1993; National Victim Center, 1994; O'Boyle, 1992). Practitioners who work in the area of stress management are particularly interested in understanding the nature and dynamics of workplace stress in order to create programs for effectively managing dysfunctional re-sponses (Cooper & Cartwright, 1997; Crandall & Perrewe´, 1995; Lindquist & Cooper, 1999; Ivancevich, Matteson, Freedman, & Phillips, 1990). In one re-view, Vecchio (1995) cited prior evidence that a majority of employees report experiencing jealousy and/or envy at work, and that most employees believe that superiors are not effectively managing these situations. This reported inef-fectiveness may partially stem from the embarrassment that is associated with dealing with these specific, often denigrated, emotions (i.e., their existence is commonly thought to reflect individual immaturity and a lack of self-confi-dence).

Defining Employee Jealousy and Envy

Following on earlier theoretical work by White and Mullen (1989) and Vecchio (1995), we can define employee jealousy as a pattern of thoughts, emo-tions, and behaviors that results from an employee's loss of self-esteem and/or the loss of outcomes associated with a working relationship. The loss, or merely the perceived threat of loss, involves the perception of a rival's intrusion. This rival has the potential to reduce one's self-esteem or undermine a valued rela-tionship. In essence, workplace jealousy is triadic in that it involves three princi-pals: the focal employee, the rival, and the valued target person. A key, critical feature of employee jealousy is the threat aspect—real or imagined. This threat aspect identifies workplace jealousy as a type of stress reaction (i.e., a strong emotional response, inducing a desire to react defensively or to withdraw).

In contrast, employee envy, although also a stress response, is defined in essentially dyadic terms (Parrott & Smith, 1993). Envy can be defined formally as a pattern of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that results from an employ-ee's loss of self-esteem in response to a referent other's obtainment of outcomes that one strongly desires. In comparison to jealousy, envy does not involve competition with a rival for control of a relationship. Also, jealousy involves a win/lose contest with a rival, while envy does not ...
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