You show me yours and I'll show you mine

It isn't just the money - it's whether you get more or less than those around you. Paul Vallely on wage envy, an old sin coming back into fashion

There was something delightfully old-fashioned about the claim in court this week that the goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar took bribes to throw matches because he was jealous of his colleagues whose earnings were rising faster than his.

It sounds so Seventies. Surely that was the last time we had the leisure to envy our peers at work. Come the Eighties we were too busy being consumed with loathing for Donald Trump and the other super-rich of the Thatcher/Reagan boom. In the Nineties there has been enough to fulfil our envy quotient without looking round the office, Nicola Horlick's pounds 1m a year being but the latest example.

For all that, the workplace is still where envy is at its most acidic, according to Helen Fisher at the business psychology consultancy Nicholson- McBride. However elevated the business, there are some things which will reduce us all to the level of children competing in the playground over who has the most fashionable Reeboks. "It is the comparative that people mind about most," she says. "And managers can find it difficult to justify why some people are paid more than others - valuations of skill, flexibility or being a good team player can be hard to explain."

It is not just the cash. "Often it's the way the money reflects your perceived status in the organisation," says Neil Crawford, a psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic in London who specialises in organisational psychology. Which is why, he finds, envy can be more rampant in a small charity than in a merchant bank. "People in organisations that deal with money as part of their day-to-day business are less screwed-up. Where people work with altruistic motives, emotions can be much more complex."

Money can be a symbol for other things, too, Crawford says. "When others earn more than you, especially younger people who have arrived after you, it is an unpleasant reminder of your growing obsolescence."

But there is also the question of deserts. Could the former British Rail staff who bought out Porterbrook Leasing from the Government and sold it at a pounds 84m profit only months later really be said to merit that sum? In what sense have the public-spirited National Lottery directors earned their substantial salaries? Given the envy and resentment generated by such figures as the gas man Cedric Brown, it is small wonder that some companies now make it a stipulation in your contract that you cannot reveal your salary to colleagues. "It is a sacking offence," says Neil Crawford, "designed to ensure that people are rewarded on ability, not on their role, but with a divide-and-rule aspect which gives great power to the employer."

By contrast, others are all too keen to pin up the list of differing bonuses each year-end. "Some firms use envy as the motivating force to get people to work harder," Crawford says. But it can backfire. Responses to envy vary, he says, "from slagging people off, to sabotage, to stealing from the firm".

Envy works at all levels. I once read an interview with the industrialist Lord White on the west coast of America. He had everything - an attractive third wife, a stunning house in the Hollywood Hills, a Rolls-Royce and a plane. Not bad for a chap who had arrived in the US with only a few thousand pounds.

He did it all by inventing the leveraged buyout. Trouble was he did it all on behalf of what was then the Hanson Trust. As a result, his fortune of about $100m is probably a 10th of what it would have been. Lord White, the interviewer concluded, felt that $100m was not quite enough reward for his sterling achievements. I think I know how he feels.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Graduate C#.NET Developer (TDD, ASP.NET, SQL) Su...

    Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

    £30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

    C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

    Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

    Day In a Page

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution