At Work & Theology 101

The Little Green Monster in Your Workplace

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It’s a monster all right, but envy is not a benign little cartoon character. It’s a terrible beast that can eat us alive.

A couple years ago, Harvard Business Review published the article Envy at Work by Tanya Menon and Leigh Thompson. The authors tell the story of Marty and Scott, two employees at an elite consulting firm.

Marty was the stronger performer, but Scott was more personable and socially adept. Over time, Scott got more attention and climbed through the ranks more quickly than Marty.

Marty envied Scott, and his resentment became increasingly evident. He gossiped about Scott at the water cooler and lashed out at him in meetings.

He became bitter and distanced himself from his colleagues. Finally, Marty left the firm with strong feelings of vengeance and regret.

The green monster ate Marty alive. He is a living example of Proverbs 14:30:

A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.

The Bible is full of examples of envy. Cain killed Abel because of envy (Gen 4:3-8). Jacob’s sons envied Joseph and sold him into slavery (Gen 37:11,28). The chief priests handed Jesus over to Pilate out of envy (Mark 15:10).

Love and Envy

Paul tells us in I Corinthians 13:4 that love does not envy. In the first post in this discussion on Love at Work, we explained that love is marked by a deep desire for the other person to experience good things, to be happy and blessed.

Envy is the opposite of that kind of love.

Rather than wanting others to have good things, we want those things for ourselves. Envy is the result of us focusing on ourselves rather than others.

If we love our neighbor we shall be so far from envying his welfare, or being displeased with it, that we shall share in it and rejoice at it. His bliss and sanctification will be an addition to ours, instead of impairing or lessening it.

– Matthew Henry

The roots of envy run deep. When we envy someone, we’re really saying to God, Hey, you got this wrong! You should have given those things to me rather than to him. The core of our envy is actually dissatisfaction with God.

Slaying the Green Monster

As followers of Christ, we’re on a path of sanctification to, among other things, replace envy with contentment. In our quest to apply God’s Word to all aspects of our lives, we’re bound to uncover some challenging things.

Here are a few steps you might find helpful:

  • Know what makes you envious. Be honest with yourself. Do you envy the wealth, status, or power your colleagues have? Do you envy the special relationship a colleague has with the boss? Perhaps it’s something simple like envying those who seem to have more autonomy in their work or take a lot of business trips.
  • Investigate the root cause. Once you have identified some of the things that cause you to be envious in the workplace, spend some time working on the Why? question. Is your envy rooted in insecurities about your own work performance? Do you have unrealistic expectations for your career path? Do you find your identity in things other than Christ?
  • Take it to the Cross. Jesus will not be shocked when you tell him you are envious of a co-worker. He will not leave you when you tell him you struggle with insecurities at work. He knows. He paid for all of these things on the Cross. Jesus invites us to come and find our contentment and security in him.
  • Redirect your focus. Focusing on the good of others is the core of being a servant. The more we focus on the good of others and the community at large, the less we focus on ourselves. The more we focus on bringing glory to God, the more we will find contentment in his plan for us.
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