Hard Work, Hard Feelings? Why We Don't Always Love Our Most Hard-Working Colleagues

Hard Work, Hard Feelings? Why We Don't Always Love Our Most Hard-Working Colleagues

You're scrolling through social media after a long day, relieved to be clocked out. Suddenly, you see a coworker online, still diligently hammering away at work. While their work ethic is admirable, it might leave you feeling a strange mix of guilt and annoyance.

Don't worry - you are not alone in your feelings. An interesting study conducted by a Washington State University social psychologist found an unbelievable paradox. It showed that hard-working, unselfish people doing their best for the group are, in fact, least liked by others. The result, counter-intuitive at first sight, is quite explainable if we dig a little deeper into human psychology.

Raising the bar

The authors of the Washington State University study concluded that the reason behind resentment was increased expectations for the whole group. The participants feared that the do-gooders raised the bar of what was expected of the group, and the new standard would make them look bad. The group's attitude did not change, no matter how much the do-gooders' contribution improved the group's welfare or the result of the task. "What is objectively good, you see as subjectively bad," the researcher admitted.

However, increased expectations are not the only reason for the dislike. Psychologists have several explanations for our irrational resentment towards workhorses.


Let's face it, witnessing a colleague consistently achieve success can trigger envy, especially if their efforts seem effortless. People who invest minimal effort into their work might struggle to understand the intrinsic value some find in dedication and contribution. This envy can manifest as negativity or even resentment towards the high performer.


The pressure to compare oneself to a hardworking colleague is closely related to envy. Imagine constantly seeing someone outshine you – it can lead to feelings of inadequacy and even humiliation, especially if promotions or recognition seem to bypass you. Envy and comparing oneself to a more diligent colleague can breed a competitive atmosphere, stressful for everyone.

Lack of recognition

Hard work thrives on appreciation. When your efforts go unnoticed or uncelebrated by management or peers, it can be incredibly demotivating. You put in the extra hours and see others reap the rewards – and you cannot help but feel frustrated and think that hard work doesn't pay off. Lack of recognition leads not only to demotivation but also to undervaluing someone's dedication altogether.


Sometimes, a hardworking colleague can be perceived as a threat, especially in environments with limited resources or opportunities. Concerns about job security can fuel hostility, as some employees might see the high performer as a competitor vying for promotions or raises.

Comfort in the status quo

Not everyone thrives in a fast-paced, achievement-oriented environment. Some employees might prefer a more relaxed work style with less pressure. A highly productive colleague can disrupt this comfort zone, leading to passive-aggressive behavior or dismissiveness towards their hard work ethic.

Misunderstood dedication

The stereotype of the "workaholic" can create a distorted view of hardworking individuals. Colleagues might perceive someone who puts in extra hours as lacking a work-life balance or being unable to enjoy life outside the office. This misunderstanding can lead to social friction and a lack of empathy for the true motivations behind the dedication.

Bridging the gap

Reducing friction between the workhorses and their more relaxed colleagues requires a complex approach. It is much more complicated than an order from the management or a meeting. The hardworking employees, their colleagues, and the management - each hold a vital piece to solving this puzzle.

Learning to unwind

While dedication is admirable, high performers need to recognize that success isn't solely measured by hours clocked. Finding a balance between work and personal life is crucial. Schedule time for relaxation and hobbies – you are more productive when you are well-rested and rejuvenated.

Take the initiative to establish open communication with colleagues. Show genuine interest in your colleagues' achievements and offer support when you see it is needed. Such behavior fosters a collaborative spirit and dispels the suspicion that hard work is a zero-sum game where someone else loses when you win.

Teamwork is a powerful tool! By joining forces to achieve common goals, you earn respect and set a positive example for others. After all, letting your achievements and skills speak for themself will ultimately outweigh negativity.

Learning to be more productive

If you want to be as productive as your diligent colleague, constant negative comparing yourself to them is destructive. Instead, here are some tips that will help you boost your productivity.

First, define clear, achievable goals and break down large tasks into manageable steps. Create a schedule and stick to it, prioritizing tasks effectively.

Maintain your drive! Find inspiration that keeps you motivated and brings a sense of fulfillment to your work.

Don't underestimate the power of breaks. Schedule time for relaxation so you can return to work feeling refreshed and focused. Maintain a healthy diet to fuel your body and mind. Additionally, incorporate physical activity into your routine – it improves focus and overall well-being.

Always strive to learn and grow professionally. The more skills you possess, the faster you'll achieve success. Never stop learning and exploring new ways to work more effectively. Foster a spirit of creativity and innovation in your work!

Don't forget to celebrate your accomplishments! Acknowledge your progress and reward yourself for reaching milestones.

The Manager's Role: Fostering a Work Environment Where Hard Work Thrives

While communication and self-awareness are crucial for hardworking employees, managers also play a vital role in mitigating friction and fostering a healthy work environment. It may not always be easy to discover the potential friction between employees, and simple observation and meetings may not be enough. Employee monitoring software can become a valuable helper in solving this problem.

Here are a few recommendations on how to mitigate the tension between hard workers and their colleagues:

Finding the Harmony in Hard Work

While a tireless work ethic deserves respect, it can create unexpected friction in the workplace. Understanding the reasons behind this discomfort – envy, comparison, and a lack of recognition – is the first step towards building a more harmonious team.

Hardworking employees, embrace a balanced approach to work and life. Communicate openly with colleagues, celebrate their achievements, and focus on collaboration – after all, teamwork is the dreamwork!

Colleagues, acknowledge the value of hard work and resist the urge to compare your path to others. Focus on your own goals and seek inspiration from your dedicated colleagues.

Managers, foster a culture of clear expectations, fair workload distribution, and open communication. Use employee monitoring software judiciously to identify workload imbalances and promote healthy work-life boundaries. Ultimately, shift the focus to achieving common goals as a team, where everyone's contribution is valued and celebrated.

Working together, we can create a work environment where dedication is appreciated, not ostracized. A rising tide lifts all boats – let's all strive for a work environment where hard work empowers, motivates, and leads to collective success.

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