Women At Work: Jealousy And Envy Impact Women Differently Than Men

Have you ever been jealous of someone that you work with? According to a new study, a whole lot of people are -- and those feelings of jealousy impact women differently than they do men.
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Have you ever been jealous of someone that you work with? According to a new study, a whole lot of people are -- and those feelings of jealousy impact women differently than they do men.

The study, published in the most recent issue of the journal Revista de Psicologia Social, examined the way that feelings of jealousy (defined as "a threat or loss of success in a relationship due to interference from a rival") and envy (defined as "a response to another person who has success, skills or qualities that [you] desire") impact workplace dynamics. The researchers were especially interested in the way that these feelings impact "intrasexual competition" -- competition between people of the same gender spurred on by the desire to get and keep "access" to the opposite sex.

What they found after studying men and women in the Netherlands, Spain and Argentina was that women's feelings of jealousy and envy can be predicted by intrasexual competition, whereas men's can't. "Women with a high level of intrasexual competition are more jealous if the rival is more attractive, and more envious if the rival is more powerful and dominating," Rosario Zurriaga, one of the study's authors, told the Spanish Foundation for Research and Technology. However, when it came to social skills, both men and women showed signs of jealousy and envy toward individuals who seemed to have an easier time socially at the office.

The results highlighted the important role that the ability to build friendly relationships plays in the workplace -- which probably doesn't come as a surprise to anyone. Previous studies have shown that women benefit greatly when they have allies at work, especially those in leadership positions, and well-developed social skills help build those relationships. However, the fact that women resent female coworkers based on their for looks, perceived "dominance" and the amount of attention those coworders receive from the opposite sex is disturbing. The findings seem to confirm the results of a plethora of studies showing that looks really do matter when it comes to getting a job. A study from April indicated that conventionally attractive women who included a photo of themselves with their resume were less likely to get an interview. Data has also shown that women who are overweight or considered "unattractive" make significantly lower salaries than their conventionally pretty counterparts.

The issue gets especially tricky when trying to figure out how to address it, as Meredith Lepore of The Grindstone points out:

The main thesis that was supposed to be learned from this study is that in order to prevent the negative effects of these feelings, companies should try to modify aspects such as the perception of threat, loss or comparison with others at work. That seems like a bit of a daunting task though. How do you make someone not feel like they are being threatened?

Since it is so difficult to do anything about this supposed issue, I wonder what the authors of this study hoped to accomplish in the first place. New research about women and their supposedly inherent inability to support one another seems to come out every other week, but the value of the findings alone isn't clear to me. If researchers are going to keep examining tensions between women, shouldn't they also be investigating what causes those tensions? When a study suggests that female bosses are harder on female employees or female coworkers compete with each other more intensely than they do with their male counterparts, do the findings indicate that women are predisposed to antagonize other women, or is there something about their particular workplace that makes them feel there are only so many women allowed at the top? When women judge other women's looks more harshly at work, is it because they have a natural tendency to focus on the superficial, or does their particular office culture suggest that a woman's advancement is based in part on her appearance? Shouldn't we be raising these questions as well?

What do you think? Do you feel like women are impacted by feelings of jealousy in the workplace? If so, what should be done about it?

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