Employees who are jealous of how their co-workers are treated around the office spend too much time trying to understand the differential treatment, a new study shows. Those workers end up producing less each day than they otherwise could, the new research finds.
The University of Cincinnati Lindner College of Business study found that employees lose the personal resources needed to focus and complete daily tasks when they grow envious of peers they believe are treated better by their bosses.
Joel Koopman, the study's author and a University of Cincinnati assistant professor of management, said workers who take those feeling of jealousy home with them often wake up the next morning still thinking about the issues.
"This cycle can build to the point that tremendous time and energy is wasted on simply processing negative emotions, leaving critical work projects to flounder until resolutions are achieved," Koopman said in a statement.
Envious feelings often take more of a toll on employees who are the most skilled at solving problems in a creative environment. Koopman said these problem-solvers tend to be the ones who have high levels of "epistemic motivation," which is the desire to process information thoroughly and grasp the meaning behind a particular situation. [See Related Story: Envy Often Drives Résumé Lies]
"Research has shown that most creative working environments — ones that require a strong ability to negotiate and attend to detail — value employees who have a high level of epistemic motivation," Koopman said. "This is significant, because the workers who are valuable for problem-solving, skilled negotiating and finding timely solutions are also the ones who ruminate longer over processing the social injustice and envy they feel."
Those employees end up producing less, because of the time they waste fretting over their envious feelings, the research found.
"This resulted in a higher degree of ego depletion and negatively affected their overall productivity," Koopman said.
For the study, Koopman surveyed a group of participants twice a day for 15 days. The researchers asked participants how fairly they had been treated by their supervisors compared to their co-workers. The surveys were designed to measure immediate feelings of envy and whether those feelings carried over into the following day.
Those envious feelings not only negatively affected employees' overall productivity, but also, if they persisted, reduced the likelihood that employees would help co-workers with their projects or listen to their personal problems, Koopman said.
"In a whirling spiral, the more energy they expend on processing the injustice, the less their resources are, and they become less likely to help others in the office," he said.
Kopman recently presented his research at the 76th Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management.