In the contemporary business landscape, creativity is increasingly recognized as a vital attribute among employees. This emphasis on creativity, however, may lead to unexpected dynamics within the workplace, particularly between supervisors and their subordinates.

A recent study by the UBC Sauder School of Business has shed light on this complex relationship, revealing that bosses may sometimes feel envious of their creatively reputed employees.

The Dynamics of Creativity and Envy in the Workplace

The study conducted by UBC Sauder School of Business involved more than 500 workers and supervisors at a leading Chinese automobile company specializing in electric and commercial vehicles. These employees were engaged in various high-tech sectors, including automation and battery engineering, focusing primarily on research and development. The supervisors, responsible for leading these creative talents, were also expected to foster creative solutions to intricate problems.

During the research, supervisors were asked to assess their employees’ creative reputations with questions like “Do people seek this employee for new ideas?” and “Is this employee expected to contribute innovative ideas?” Concurrently, supervisors evaluated their confidence in their creativity and the extent of their envy towards creative subordinates.

Supervisor’s Perception of Creativity and Its Consequences

The study’s findings were revealing. Supervisors who doubted their creative abilities were more prone to malicious envy towards creative subordinates, whereas those confident in their creativity tended to experience benign envy. Lingtao Yu from UBC Sauder, a co-author of the study, explains that supervisors with strong self-belief in their creativity are more inclined towards self-improvement and seeking help. In contrast, those lacking in this belief might perceive creative employees as a threat, leading to negative behaviors.

The Impact of Reputation for Creativity

The research distinguishes between genuinely creative employees and those with a reputation for creativity. It was found that employees known for their creativity were more likely to become targets of supervisors’ envy than their equally creative but less renowned peers. This discovery underscores the significant impact of reputation in the workplace.

Addressing Envy in the Workplace

The UBC study, published in the Journal of Management, is pioneering in its exploration of the direct link between creativity and supervisor envy. Professor Yu emphasizes the importance of this study, especially as businesses in the last decade have greatly valued creativity, particularly in high-tech industries. He notes that supervisors often compare themselves against their workers, and a reputation for creativity can lead to emotional and behavioral consequences.

Professor Yu advises business leaders to adopt a balanced view of creativity, acknowledging its importance but also being mindful of its potential interpersonal impacts. He suggests that supervisors should recognize their biases and see an employee’s reputation for creativity not as a threat, but as an opportunity to seek creative ideas, thereby enhancing their leadership and team success.