The phrase “green with envy” is thrown around rather casually when one speaks of someone who wishes to be someone else, or have what someone else has. However, I believe the concept has become misconstrued. Does it imply the standard interpretation above, or is it that the envious one believes that someone who has what he or she wants does not actually deserve it?
Some of us have been the object of an envious person, and some of us are, in fact, envious. Both sides of this negative trait may cause an array of problems in today’s corporate America. Far too many envious people are emerging and with such vengeance that they actually cost companies more money. These people are so difficult to work with and for that they drive some of the best talent straight to the competition.
If this scenario sounds familiar, pay close attention to understand just how costly he or she can be to an organization.
How do those “green with envy” develop? Usually, they are quite happy with their path in life. They are successful, lead a righteous life, and care about others. These people even have others who look up to them and want to be like them, which make them feel good about themselves, and they believe their success is going well.
They are “paying their dues.” They are college-educated, have worked their way up the corporate ladder, and are doing everything they are supposed to do to climb even higher. So they open their arms to other employees as if to say, “Follow me, I’ll show you how to pay your dues and lead the glamorous life that I have. Stick with me and I can get you where you need to be.” This makes them feel good because they believe they are helping people, and they love the attention.
What disrupts this happiness occurs when another individual achieves success at a faster rate. The envious person becomes angry and feels that life is unfair because someone else was just lucky and didn’t actually deserve success. In fact, he or she may have deserved it less! The “unlucky” person feels that anyone who is not educated, experienced or qualified for success is certainly not deserving of anything equal to or more than that of the envious person.
The above condition may be labeled “corporate hazing.” It can take the following form: “Hey, new person, we have decided to let you take over this special task everyone hates to do, and we will pretend that we are giving it to you because you are so talented.”
The best thing the new person can do to avoid ridicule is to create a better solution to the old task everyone dislikes, and make it a success. Then, watch out! The hazers will see that upper-management likes what the new person has done, so they begin to plan his or her demise.
The best way to combat this is to document everything. A great example is an employee I have who was not well liked when I hired him because his position was designed to “shake up” the old way of doing things. Having been warned in advance, he carried his now-infamous little green book. Everywhere he went, he documented everything he did during the day and everything he was asked to do.
When the envious employees emerged and attempted to demonstrate the new employee’s incompetence, he refuted their claims with his book of notes. He was quickly respected and was never questioned more than once by anyone. His green book is extremely popular, and now everyone has asked me for one.
A Word To Managers
Managers see envious people as slightly impolite, with a strong approach to business and rather blunt words for co-workers. Managers may also sense this type of employee is somewhat needy, but justifies this as someone asking questions to learn more about the company in order to advance.
The “green with envy” people become dangerous when another employee, who is undeserving of success in their eyes, is now involved in their daily life and doesn’t really need or want their help. Thoughts of unfairness now haunt them every time they see or hear about that person. They may try to brush it off as short-lived success, saying, “Yeah, anyone can behave for three months, but show me someone who’s been here for a few years and is still doing well.”
It becomes even worse, however, if that person is a co-worker they need to be nice to every day. The word “green” perfectly describes these people, for they may become physically ill over another’s success. They are filled with an inescapable toxic feeling, but they don’t realize they are doing it to themselves.
Knowing Your Employees
If you are a manager, be careful that you may actually be creating “green” people or harboring them. Brushing off odd behaviors is not advisable. The envious may become skilled employment assassins, and can be the demise of your good talent.
Envious people begin to develop perceived indifference, believing they are working incredibly hard, offering you their best talent, and simply not getting enough recognition, support or salary in return. This becomes worse when they see you offer those things to others.
When they try to sabotage the more successful employee, two things may happen:
1. You, as the manager, will not reprimand them for creating the circumstance.
2. Your talented employee will see your lack of proper response and leave for a better boss.
The best way to avoid this problem is to conduct honest employee evaluations. Indicate why the envious are not measuring up. Don’t tell them that, if they work harder, they can obtain a promotion. Tell them they simply do not have the skills required to move forward. Recommend that, if they are not receiving the promotions and salary they need, they are more than welcome to try another department where they might flourish. Perhaps focusing on themselves, rather than what other people are doing, may help.
Clearly, they are not effective talent. They may be reasonable, dependable employees who come to work every day and do their job, but they are not the “knock-‘em-dead” type of charismatic employee you prefer to recruit.
Potential For Problems
In my experience, the “green with envy” people who have not been given proper employee evaluations will soon look at the manager as their prey. I have seen the following retaliations: reporting the supervisor to HR for not following company policy, wrongful termination and discrimination lawsuits after quitting, and even accusing a manager of threatening his or her life.
All of these could have been avoided if the perceived indifference had been identified and dealt with, and if honest communication had taken place.
If an envious person is given a position merely to avoid him or her becoming disgruntled, that employee may begin to communicate private company information to subordinates in an effort to gain their trust and followership. This leads to company complaints, and creates an organizational culture filled with animosity toward superiors. Lost production may result.
Get The Right People
So how do you avoid harboring a “green” person? First, do not settle for mediocrity. Your goal as a manager is to hire the best talent you can find.
You cannot change people. However, you can help both the candidate and yourself by finding the reason for employment. Why does he or she want to work at your company? What is to be gained? Not only will this help clear up any confusion later, but these are great interview questions.
More importantly, write out several descriptions of what your company offers to an employee. Ask the candidate to select three items in the order of importance. The list may include leadership, challenge, healthcare, 401k, education assistance and others that your company can offer. This is a great tool as well for a new manager taking over a staff. A prospective employee will reveal a great deal by the choices, and with this approach you can remind the person in future evaluations how he or she can stay on the path to various goals and why perhaps the employee did not get that promotion. (Do you remember that leadership wasn’t even one of your top three items?)
Never settle for anything less than exactly what you need.
Kati Trammel is an advertising and public relations specialist in Lakeland, Fla. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.