Executives’ experiences of envy in the workplace: A collaborative phenomenological study.

The pernicious “problem” of envy has been noted across history, but it did not come into focus as a topic of psychological research until the late 1980s. Since, interest in the topic has grown, but few researchers have addressed the experience of envy, culminating in theoretical and definitional confusion that undercuts understanding of the phenomenon. We interviewed nine senior executives about their experiences of envy in the workplace, and analyzed those interviews with a dialogic variation on the phenomenological method. Our findings were consistent with prior literature in that each participant described a social comparison in which they were revealed as lacking in an area of importance to them. For our participants the experience of envy was embodied, distressing, and involved a cascade of other emotions. Participants felt vulnerable, exposed, and they questioned their abilities. They reported feeling alienated from others, and questioned the fairness of the situation and the integrity of the organization. Although the “set-up” for envy was external, involving situations that seemed political, unfair, or unethical, participants also held themselves back through lack of clarity or conflict about their desires, by refusing to “play the game,” by simply not stating what they wanted, or by refusing to accept the situation as it was. Our research found that when participants were (or became) clear about the significance of their envy, they were able to actively process and understand their experience, and envy became a catalyst for growth, transformation, and even their evolution as leaders and human beings. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)