Life is competition, and it’s especially easy to feel like you’re losing if your coworkers are always taking bomb-arse holidays while you sit at home using a Netflix account you split with four other people.
We all have colleagues whose Instagram accounts inspire a hot spike of rage as you look with indignation at their sunset pictures of Dubrovnik and think, “Weren’t you JUST in Iceland last month??”
Social media makes it incredibly easy to build up a deep and powerful reservoir of resentment at your colleagues’ vacations, either because you can’t quite figure out the discrepancy between the numbers on your paycheck and the lavish lifestyle they seem to be living, or maybe just because they’re actually good at planning things.
The obvious solution to this resentment is to ignite class war that overthrows the bourgeoisie and seizes all their extravagant capital to socialise plane tickets from here out. But, more practically, you could probably just get over it, because their life is likely not as peachy as it seems.
To cope with this very real form of simmering office resentment, we talked to a few experts who shared tips about suppressing, harnessing or counteracting your resentment at your vacationing colleagues. It’s also a good reminder that basically everyone is more miserable than they seem.
Identify the source of your resentment
First things first, narrow down your resentment and figure out what you’re actually upset about. Are you angry that someone seems to make more money than you even though you have the same dang job? Are you mad that they have a better job that you’re probably just as qualified for? Or are you just upset because while your coworker probably makes the same salary as you and is offered the same amount of annual leave days, they seem to be better able to manage their time and budgeting so they can fit in the lavish-looking trip to Portugal while you’re trying to fit in two hours to go pickup a UPS package on North Brother Island?
That last one is more mundane and easier to cope with, but they are all manageable enough once you compartmentalise your resentment and tackle the problem from there.
“More or less, people understand that salaries differ throughout offices dependending on job responsibilities,” said Alison Green, author of the Ask a Manager workplace column. “More of what I see is people who just feel crushed by their workload who feel like they can never find time to take a real vacation.”
Finding the time
If all things are equal — as in, if you and the target of your envy have similar jobs and compensation — you probably just need to get better at planning.
Part of the problem may be our addiction to overworking, the feeling that if you use your vacation days, you’ll come off as weak and fungible. That’s usually not the case, Green said. Talking to your boss can be a first step toward helping you carve out time and mentally allowing yourself have a vacation. After all, an overworked employee is probably more of a detriment to your workplace than one who occasionally screws off to New Orleans for a week or two every year.
“Sometimes people feel like talking to boss won’t do any good, they feel like ‘I’m indispensable, no one can cover work when gone,” she said. “Honestly, a lot of the times when I see that, the boss doesn’t feel that way. If the person would just say, ‘hey this is important to me, can we figure out a way to make this work?’ the manager will help them.”
If you work in a high-octane environment, it can be easy to misinterpret the idea of taking time off of work with not being a team player. But in actuality, Green said, we get vacation days for a reason — to go on vacation.
“It is a real thing in some offices, if you use all of your vacation days, people will look askance at that,” she said. “Which is of course ridiculous. They shouldn’t give you all those vacation days if you’re not intended to use them.” Even if you might get the side-eye from your fellow overworked colleagues or even a manager, you should make the most of the vacation days to which you’re legally entitled.
If fairness is the issue
It’s totally possible that your perceived injustice about the travel gap between you and your coworkers is, in fact, an actual injustice. Workplace imbalances of pay or compensation can be real wellsprings of strife among employees, another way capitalism turns us all against each other in a never-ending blood sport. But even athletes in blood sports get bye weeks!
“If it truly does seem unfair, you may want to take stock of your own job,” said Ryan Howes, a psychologist from Pasadena, California. “Do you need to ask for a raise or more vacation time? Do you think your work is unfairly biased against you, meaning you may need to speak to a lawyer or recruiter?”
(As it happens, we have numerous guides that can help you assert for compensation equality in the workplace, from what to do when you think you’re underpaid to how to ask for a raise to just how to ask for more time off.)
Remember that rarely is someone going to come around and demand you take a holiday, or insist that your pay be brought up to par with your coworkers who are at the same level. You’ve got to ask for it.
Similarly, if the issue is that an unfair amount of work is getting foisted on you every time a colleague goes out of town, instead of stewing about it, talk to a manager about ways you can improve protocols for vacation prep, and mitigate the situation the next time around.
Just avoid talking about it
If following all your coworkers on social media is just going to inspire fits of class warfare rage, Green advises that it’s probably best to just unfollow them.
Workplace conversations about their vacations are harder to avoid without seeming rude; but Green said that they come with their own built-in escape hatch.
“You can say, ‘I’ve got to get back, I’m on deadline,'” she said.
If you really can’t avoid it, consider drafting the person into helping you plan one of those famous exciting vacations they’re apparently angling to become known for.
“If you can’t beat ’em, make them your travel agent,” Howes said.
Remember that everyone is miserable
Carefully posed Instagram photos are now so obviously faked that we’ve created a new word for them: the plandid, that intensely staged photo specifically designed to elicit the exact jealously that you’re feeling.
Everyone’s life seems magical on social media, or full of carefree wonder when recounting how this trip to Brazil was better than the last one as you’re sitting around the office Keurig machine. But no matter how shiny someone’s life looks online, remember that Donald Trump is the US president, none of us will ever be able to afford to retire and everyone is secretly screaming on the inside. Or, more to the point, everyone has their own private struggles and difficulties, most of which they’re probably not wearing on their sleeve to mitigate your feelings about the good things that do come their way. So your jealousy is almost certainly misplaced.
“Social media is the place where people highlight how great their life can appear, but it rarely represents the totality of their life,” Howes tells us. “Insecurity, shame, failure and loss are often more common (and even more meaningful) than those happy moments, but they rarely make it onto your feed. Try to accept that your normal doesn’t have to equal someone else’s best take.”
Just as it is foolish to comment on anything about someone’s life — from their medical conditions to their sobriety — without knowing them well enough, it’s dangerous to assume you actually know why someone can travel that much without asking them, Green said.
“Maybe the reason they’re able to afford fantastic vacations is they’re up to their eyeballs in credit card debt,” she said.
She recalled a friend who went on an amazing vacation with her whole family — but only because her parent had terminal cancer, and they wanted to take one last vacation.
“You never know what the story is,” she said. “Sometimes things are not as perfect and shiny as their appear on the outside.”
The best solution? Handle your own business, and put things in perspective. “If it’s about envy,” Howes said, “your negative feelings about their happiness are really rooted in your dissatisfaction with your own life.”