Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Laurence J. Gould

Committee Members

Debra A. Noumair

Steven B. Tuber

Jeffrey Rosen

C. Jama Adams

Subject Categories



There is a paucity of literature on women's subjective experience of being envious or being envied in the contemporary workplace. Yet envy, wanting what another possesses, is believed to thrive in a competitive interpersonal milieu, much like the modern workplace, where employees vie for limited organizational resources and rewards. Accordingly, there is a need to better understand envy's role in the workplace and move from an abstract, context-free conceptualization of workplace envy to one that is more differentiated and context-bound. Eighteen women were interviewed for this qualitative study, using semi-structured interviews. Results were analyzed using both psychoanalytic and social psychological theory and research. Findings revealed that professional women did experience envy at work as characterized by both Kleinian theory and social comparison research. Two contexts, referred to as 'withholding' and 'destructive differentiation' in this study, elicited envy in participants. Envy in the context of 'withholding' was evoked when one wanted: (1) a specific 'organizational good' such as a promotion or special assignment was given to another, (2) interpersonal rewards such as praise and recognition that another received, and (3) mentoring that another colleague acquired. Envy in the context of 'destructive differentiation' was felt (1) when a colleague with whom they identified achieved more success, (2) when a colleague possessed talents or skills of special value and importance to their type of work. Four themes were also identified regarding the consequences of envy in the workplace. The four themes fell on a continuum, spanning from more to less destructive consequences: (1) envious attacks aimed at damaging the envied other, (2) withdrawing from a relationship of potential value, (3) devaluing oneself, and (4) improvements in motivation. The fording that participants' experiences fell on a continuum from negative to positive has important implications. If a continuum of experiences of envy exists, envy be a normative experience in the workplace and may have functional and adaptive purposes in the workplace rather than solely pathological ones. This study demonstrated the need for greater recognition of envy's role and impact on achievement, performance and productivity in the workplace.


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