Performance Envy

Have you ever worked on a treadmill or any piece of exercise machinery and found your eyes drifting to the other person’s instrument panel? Your eyes were sneaking a peek at their monitor to see how well they were doing. You can admit it. There is no reason to be ashamed. Humans are curious by nature, especially in the presence of someone performing at a very high level. Additionally, we want to see how we stack up against others performing the same activity.

This performance voyeurism in the workplace, can lead to performance envy if we are not careful. We may use this practice for personal motivation, but we can become overwhelmed and envious of the other person’s skills and contributions. During my early days as a pharmaceutical sales representative, I encountered performance envy from my peers.  I was gung-ho and enthusiastic about my new company and my new job. Some of my competitors were watching me move busily around the office complex and interacting with my customers. One of them decided to sit me down and talk to me. He was one of the younger veteran sales representatives of the group, with five years of experience. He asked what I was doing.  I gave him some number quantifying my effort on customer contacts; offices visited and samples distributed. He told me to slow down. I was working too hard. Then he said, I was making them look bad. I thanked him for our talk, but it registered that my work was beginning to bother my competition, which meant I was doing my job. I also felt he had some nerve to hold this conversation with me.

Performance envy is also launched against the newly promoted. We often feel that everyone is working at least as hard as we are. One of the many observations of a new manager is that others do not have the same skills nor are they delivering the same level of effort. New managers learn that they were among the top performers and worked beyond their peers in quality and quantity of work. This was one of the reasons used to explain their promotion. This realization partially explains why new managers cause tension early in their tenure when they try to get some employees to work as they worked. Additionally, promotions will lead to performance envy from people who are not as happy with their promotion as they would think.  

One manager was promoted to a highly visible marketing assignment for a major brand. This was a tremendous opportunity and she required the cooperation of her entire team to get up the learning curve and be successful. One of her associates felt he was passed over for the assignment. He became a roadblock for many of her ideas and initiatives. He spoke negatively about her work and qualifications, behind her back.

Preventing Performance envy

People are prone to say, “I’m so jealous of you” when faced with your good fortune or excellent results. They may be joking or silently harboring feelings of resentment. There are numerous strategies to minimize performance envy in others and in ourselves.

  1. Being supportive – help those who were promoted
  2. Showing reciprocity – Be open to help others improve in areas that match your skills
  3. Exhibiting humility
  4. Personal Action Plan – Work to improve your performance against personal goals
  5. Solicit assistance – Recruit a coach, mentor or co-worker gifted in your areas of greatest need for development

Being Supportive

Performance voyeurism can be useful if it drives you to a positive mindset and performance growth. The most productive means would be to approach someone and let them know that you’ve noticed their strong suit. Ask, how they became so successful and would they be willing to give you pointers to increase your performance. Their willingness may lead to friendly competition, but you should always say thank you and give them credit for helping you get better.

I was told that I was next in line for a promotion. However, at the 11th hour, the job was offered and accepted by another person who wasn’t even a candidate. He was highly regarded and more qualified for the role. He was told to expect trouble from me, because I felt the job should have been mine. I approached him, congratulated him and promised to help him succeed. I fulfilled my promise and he was my greatest advocate when I was promoted a year later. 

Showing Reciprocity

Look around your organization for people you can assist on their career journey. The desire to make others better demonstrates your ability to develop the entire organization. This method of paying forward crystallizes your commitment to expand the scope of your influence.

Exhibiting humility

There is something about an unpretentious, humble heart that makes you coachable and approachable. People will want the best for you or think less ill of you. Few people like arrogance, so humility will win converts to your side and reduce performance envy. 

Personal Action Plan  

Much has been written about your need for a personal career plan, equipped with a personal assessment, which includes a review of strengths and weaknesses, goals and milestones, and an action plan to market your brand. This plan should include a request for coaching and mentoring from experienced people who can guide you along your career path. No one can succeed without the help of others. We need help. Be courageous and humble enough to seek assistance.

Solicit assistance

Performance envy in isolation can lead to unprofessional behavior and a lack of support and cooperation. You have seen people resent someone because they always seem to do a good job. They create conspiracy theories that suggest their numbers or results are not due to hard work, but through preferential treatment due to special favors and programs. Performance envy can also be a barrier to trust and teamwork. Engagement levels can also be affected if the work atmosphere is contaminated by bad feelings caused by unhealthy resentment among team members.

High performers should dedicate themselves to becoming Impact Players. Those individuals are amazingly gifted at their craft, but they are committed to making others better around them. This blend of skill, creativity and passion will elevate team and individual results. The positive performance of the team will stimulate the culture to excel and will minimize performance envy.

Copyright © 2011 Orlando Ceaser

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