The Sneaky Ways Envy Shows Up As Bullying and Incivility in the Workplace

If you peel back the layers of disruptive behaviors whether it’s bullying, incivility, or workplace violence, you may find an underlying thread of envy felt by the bully, which then gets directed towards the target.  Sometimes this envy isn’t acknowledged or realized by either party, but make no mistake about it, envy is a killer to a professional and healthy work environment.

Just ask Michelle…

Michelle was thrilled to receive an award at work for her excellence in nursing care. She had been a nurse for more than 25 years, and this was the first time she was recognized by her organization. Her manager announced Michelle’s award during a staff meeting and she was honored during a lovely afternoon reception.

Michelle was beaming with pride and joy!

However, over the next few weeks, Michelle started to notice that her assignments were really heavy – alcohol withdrawal patients, difficult families, isolation patients, etc. While she was running around going crazy, many of her colleagues were sitting at the desk, chatting. She thought it was her imagination until she overheard a conversation between the charge nurse and a colleague that shook her to her core.

The charge nurse was deciding whom to give the ICU transfer to. Apparently the patient was a “hot mess.” Michelle heard the charge nurse say, “I’ll give him to Michelle. She’s such a big shot now that she won that award. Let’s make her work for it.”

Michelle became the victim of a deadly sin, leading to nurse bullying and incivility. Michelle was a victim of ENVY.

Several years ago while visiting my sister Tina, I attended church services with her and her family. Pastor Ron talked about envy as one of the 7 deadly sins. The entire time I listened, I couldn’t help but to see the connection between envy and nurse bullying. It was clear that envy is alive and well in the nursing profession too and a primary cause of unprofessional behavior AND nurse bullying.

Check out this video on How to address the #1 sin contributing to Nurse Bullying.

What is envy?

Envy is when we want what someone else has, i.e. new car, vacation property, award, etc. and RESENT them for having it.

At the core of envy is a feeling of unfairness – I am owed this and I’ve been cheated. Or, I deserve this more than this person.

How does envy show up in our workplace?
  • A colleague gets an award, but the chatter in the unit or department is that the award was a joke or undeserved.
  • Your coworkers are all talking in the corner of the unit, but as soon as you walk towards them they stop talking.
  • Someone gets an advanced degree. Instead of congratulating and celebrating your coworker, you don’t acknowledge it. They act like your accomplishment is no big deal.
  • You and your colleague apply for the same position. She gets it and you don’t. So, you unfriend her on Facebook and start ignoring her at work.
  • You get acknowledged for something you’ve done well. However, your colleagues sarcastically congratulate you, “It must be so nice to get acknowledged for your ‘great’ work…”

When envy shows up, it affects the cohesiveness of the team.

Without cohesive teams, someone’s mom, dad, son, daughter, wife, is affected in a negative manner.

What if you just think these thoughts but don’t act on them?

Make no mistake about it…Envy is a violent emotion. We may not intentionally attack the person outright, but envy will find it’s way into the way we communicate, interact, and make decisions – all of which impact the work environment AND patient outcomes.

Envy makes us competitors and as competitors we have trouble seeing each other as colleagues who are all working together to achieve a common goal.

Envy poisons every relationship, every work environment, and every profession – including the nursing profession.

What’s the antidote to envy?

  1. Name it

When you start questioning someone’s accomplishments or downplaying them, catch yourself. And then say, “I’m feeling envious of her  ________.” Recognizing your feelings of envy and be the beginning of healing.

  1. Trade malicious envy for motivational envy

If you are envious that your colleague got an award or an advanced degree, use it as a motivator instead and GET UP AND MOVE! Do something positive that will move you towards the same or a similar accomplishment.

  1. Celebrate with them

Be thankful for their blessings because when one of you succeeds – you all succeed. The more you celebrate the success of others, the greater the reward for all. Be a part of the party.

Envy is a relationship destroyer and has no place in a profession dedicated to caring and compassion. What should have been a very proud and fulfilling time in Michelle’s professional career turned out to be a painful and stressful one.

We are all humans capable of envy (me too). But by recognizing our envious feelings and taking positive action on them, we can start the process of building a professional, supportive and nurturing nursing culture.

Has envy been a reason why you have been treated poorly? I’d LOVE to read your comments about this topic.

Want additional resources to create a healthy workforce?

Be kind. Take care. Stay connected.

Helping you cultivate a healthy happy workforce,

About Renee Thompson

Dr. Renee Thompson is a keynote speaker, author and professional development/anti-bullying thought leader. Renee spends the majority of her time helping healthcare and academic organizations address and eliminate bullying behavior. To find out how you can bring Renee to YOUR organization or nursing event, visit

There are 2 comments on this post
  • Renee Thompson
    Luzmarie Ramirez
    Jul 25, 2019 Reply

    I’m feeling this even as I type this. I became a clinical instructor and began a nursing masters and people are finding the most petty things to write me up for

    • Renee Thompson
      Brenda Violette
      Jul 27, 2019 Reply

      I've seen this so many times!! I know the brain tends to look for negative things - however, when on the receiving end of that negativity, it squashes performance, confidence, and morale!! Have you had a conversation with this person (s)? Might want to provide this feedback.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.