ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (12): 2406-2418.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.02406

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The ambivalent reaction of being envied: A perspective of self-based agency and communion

CHENG Xiang, LI Fangjun()   

  1. School of Management, Jinan University, Guangzhou 510632, China
  • Received:2023-05-13 Online:2023-12-15 Published:2023-09-11


In the competitive environment of corporate organizations, it is a common occurrence that high-performing individuals become the targets of envy due to their outstanding accomplishments. Envy is a multifaceted concept and can be perceived from various perspectives. In this case, it is described as a state where an individual recognizes others' feelings of envy towards them. This recognition further includes the cognitive evaluation that this individual makes regarding others' feelings of envy. The induction of envy can spark a range of emotions, from positive ones such as pride to negative ones like anxiety. These emotional responses can, in turn, influence job performance and interpersonal dynamics in different ways.

Two main theories form the basis of our understanding of envy: STTUC theory and social comparison theory. STTUC theory largely emphasizes the potential damage envy can cause to interpersonal relationships. It puts a spotlight on the unease and disquiet that feelings of envy can breed, thereby limiting its ability to explain the positive outcomes that can also arise from envy. On the other hand, the social comparison theory stresses that envy is an indication of personal success and consequently focuses on the pleasure and happiness derived from it. However, this approach fails to acknowledge the negative outcomes that can also emerge from feelings of envy.

These limitations point towards an evident issue: understanding the emotional and behavioral responses to envy from a single perspective does not provide a comprehensive understanding of the implications of being envied.

To bridge this gap in the current literature, our study begins with a review of existing research on the implications of being envied. We then introduce the dual perspective model of agency and communion, suggesting a more nuanced approach to understanding the experiences of being envied. Under this model, we propose that individuals perceiving themselves as actors of envy can strengthen their agency self-concept, thereby generating a positive self-experience. Conversely, individuals viewing themselves as recipients or observers of envy might experience a decrease in their communion self-concept, which can lead to a negative self-experience.

Furthermore, our study examines the role of self-regulation strategies in managing envy. For instance, when envy enhances the agency self-concept, individuals may resort to maintenance strategies like self-enhancement or boastful behaviors. On the contrary, when envy diminishes the communion self-concept, individuals might either use a change strategy, engaging in helpful and cooperative behaviors, or adopt avoidance strategies such as turnover.

Our study also underlines the relative significance of agency and communion for individuals by delineating the boundary conditions of the effects of envy at individual and cultural levels. This includes factors like gender, age, narcissism, sociotropy, and individualistic and collectivistic culture. We argue that those who are envied should cultivate a paradoxical mindset, viewing agency and communion as mutually reinforcing aspects, to manage envy effectively.

Given these insights, our study then sets forth several potential avenues for future research. Firstly, we propose the investigation of the comprehensive effects of envy, using the dual perspective model primarily through empirical research. This involves testing the agency and communion self-concepts as the mechanisms and further exploring other boundary conditions at interpersonal and organizational levels. Secondly, we encourage further study into the self-experience and self-regulation of envy, including aspects such as self-esteem, self-efficacy, creative process engagement, and advice seeking. Lastly, we recommend an assessment of the practical effectiveness of coping strategies for envy.

By offering a unified theoretical framework that comprehensively integrates the impacts of envy, our study not only enhances the understanding of the full implications of being envied but also provides invaluable recommendations for future research and interventions. In doing so, it aids organizations in maximizing the positive effects of envy and minimizing its negative impacts. Therefore, our research contributes significantly to the ongoing conversation around envy in organizational settings.

Key words: being envied, agency, communion, dual perspective model, self

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