Exorcising Envy

You would be surprised at how hard it is to find an instance of envy embodied in the animal kingdom.  This one took some serious research to find the right animal, and it's actually because of scientific research that I found him.  Meet the Capuchin Monkey.  (When I was younger, I thought they were called cappuccino monkeys because of my tendency to whole word read and not sound out things.)
This little guy is pretty cute and, according to wikipedia, he's also pretty darned smart.  Capuchins are one of the most highly trainable members of the primate family and are well acquainted with humans, working with organ grinders, as helper monkeys for the disabled, and even kept as exotic pets these days.  They're VERY vocal communicators and, in nature, they even developed a nifty mosquito repellent by smushing millipedes and rubbing the remains on their backs.  In their jungle homes, they're quite territorial and tend to have longer than average lifespans since they are far more cleaver than their primary predators.  They live in 10-35 member "families" that are usually dominated by an alpha male or both an alpha male and alpha female.  Because they are considered the most intelligent monkeys in the new world, Capuchins are often used in psychology studies and experiments, which is actually how this little guy came to my attention.

A 2007 article reported by the News Scientist elaborated on a study that took place in the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, where scientists conducted the following experiment:

"They trained 13 capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella)to retrieve a small rock and place it in the experimenter's hands. Inexchange for completing this task, the animals received a reward.

Pairsof monkeys were seated beside one another in a test booth, separated bya mesh partition. In one trial, the monkeys received the same sizedcucumber reward for their efforts and 90% completed the task within 5seconds.

Butthen the researchers gave one of the monkeys a grape instead of acucumber. To a human this may seem like a minor detail, but monkeys gobananas over grapes, which they far prefer to cucumbers.

Whenthe monkeys given cucumber saw their partners receive this grapereward, they invested less effort in future repetitions of the task,and completed it within 5 seconds only 80% of the time.

Ina third scenario, the monkeys both received the same cucumber reward,but could see a bowl of grapes just beyond their reach. Under thesecircumstances, the animals performed the task with the same willingnessas when the grapes were hidden. The researchers say that this rules outthe possibility that the primates alter their behavior out of greed."

Take out the fact that they've got tails and these monkeys start to look and act pretty "human."  Envy is inevitable in an environment with more than one person.  You put two people in a room, and one way or another, one of them is going to have an upper hand.  It could be through a possession, a skill, an idea, or any number of tangible and intangible things.  People aren't even steven, no matter how much we'd like it to be the case.   Envy comes from the Latin "Invidia," and though it is like greed, the two are distinct from each other. Greed means we want it and gotta have it.  Envy means we want it, gotta have it and we don't want that other person to have it anymore.  We want to see people taken down a peg or two when we've got envy driving us. 

Envy puts us in a place where schadenfreude is inevitable. To explain what it means... I'll leave that to the cast of one of my favorite musicals, Avenue Q.  The following interchange takes place between Nicky and Gary Coleman (yes, THAT Gary Coleman), and is NOT appropriate to be played in your office unless you've got headphones due to some random colorful language.  Despite that, it's the best explanation of it that is out there:

"People taking pleasure in your pain."  And Gary Coleman is right; everybody does it, even if it's deep down in that place you don't express or show anyone but your therapist.  It's a shameful joy.

Researchers have shown that people who suffer from low self esteem have a higher occurrence of schadenfreude than those with high self esteem.  They think this may be linked to a social comparison theory that says when others look bad, we look better.  Yet another study has found that, using brain scans, "schadenfreude is correlated with envy.Strong feelings of envy activated physical pain nodes in the brain'sdorsal anterior cingulate cortex; the brain's reward centers (e.g. the ventral striatum)were activated by news that the people envied had suffered misfortune.The magnitude of the brain's schadenfreude response could even bepredicted from the strength of the previous envy response."

So it's out there and everyone does it, but the question is, how do we keep it from affecting our day to day productivity in a work setting?  For starters, if you're overseeing people, make sure that you aren't showing favoritism.  If you really do like a person, don't make them the object of everyone else's hatred and envy. 

Secondly, take some time and really assess what each person on the team has as far as strengths and weaknesses go, and then aim them at the projects they will excel at.  If you have someone who is great at marketing but can't do bookkeeping to save their life, then don't set them up to fail.  If they want to work on their weaker skills, kudos to them on the self and professional growth fronts,  and absolutely you should be willing to teach them, but why waste their talents on a project that doesn't enhance your community, doesn't enhance their job confidence and leads to great frustration?  Granted, sometimes we have to do work we don't want to do, but if you have people more focused on their areas of excellence, then they are less likely to envy their coworkers because EVERYONE has something that they're good at, even though everyone is good at different things.

 Next, if your team is currently bubbling over in the envy cauldron, call a staff meeting.  There are several exercises you can do with your teams to get everyone back on a level playing field.  One of my favorites is to give everyone a list with their coworkers names on it and three blanks under each person's name.  Then instruct your staff to write what THEY think that person's 3 strongest qualities on the job are.  Not only does it make your employee feel like they're being noticed and appreciated, but it also might point out things to them that they didn't realize they had as strengths.  Best of all, it's free! 

You can do a similar exercise if it seems like your team might be obsessed with what your property DOESN'T have compared to their comps.  Focusing on what we don't have isn't going to sell what we do have, so take the time to make a huge list of all the reasons someone might want to live at your community, and don't reject any ideas.  You'll be surprised what a real, free, uninhibited exchange of ideas will bring up.

How do you keep envy to a minimum in your staff? Do you make sure everyone gets grapes when they should, or do you just keep your staff at a cucumber level?

(I'm doing this blog series to promote my new seminar on the 7 Deadly Property Management Sins through BTLD Consulting!  If you're interested in booking out for the seminar for your team or apartment association, shoot me an email at heather@behindtheleasingdesk.com)

Gluttony has Got to Go

Working Out Wrath