Employees who envy co-workers are more likely to sabotage their work, says a new study.
The researchers from the University of British Columbia also found that envious employees are more likely to undermine peers if they feel disconnected from others.
So managers should keep all team members connected and engaged in the workplace and guard against allowing workers to feel alienated, says co-author Prof. Karl Aquino of the Sauder School of Business.
"We often hear that people who feel envious of their colleagues try to bring them down by spreading negative rumours, withholding useful information, or secretly sabotaging their work," he said.
Aquino, who conducted the study with colleagues from the University of Minnesota, Clemson University in South Carolina and Georgia State University, says envy is only the fuel for sabotage.
"The match is not struck unless employees experience what psychologists call 'moral disengagement' - a way of thinking that allows people to rationalize or justify harming others," he said.
The researchers explain that moral disengagement is most likely to occur when an envious co-worker feels disconnected from others in the workplace.
To obtain data, the researchers conducted two field studies. They first used a sample of 160 employees from a mid-west American hospital to test whether a person's lack of identification with colleagues increases their likelihood to act on envy.
In a second study, the researchers explored how the working environment can influence employees to undermine one another.
"Our study shows that envy on its own is not necessarily a negative thing in the workplace. However, managers would be well advised to consider teambuilding strategies to ensure all of their employees are engaged in the group dynamic," said lead author, Prof. Michelle Duffy of the University of Minnesota.
The findings will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Academy of Management Journal.