Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler. Photo: yakub88/Shutterstock.com

Wednesday 18th November 2015

Pop goes HR #3

'Money for Nothing' and the blessings of career envy

Those of us of a certain age (i.e., old) will almost certainly recall ‘Money For Nothing’, the Dire Straits hit from their 1985 album, Brothers in Arms.

Mark Knopfler wrote the song along with Geordie chum Gordon Sumner, otherwise known as Sting. It clogged the number one spot in the US for three weeks and even landed the group a 1986 Grammy for Best Rock Performance.

The video (below) won Best Video at the 1986 MTV Awards. The gong was largely awarded for the then-sophisticated computer animation. Nowadays though, it looks about as dated as rah-rah skirts, Commodore PETs, Speak ‘n’ Spell and – do you remember this one? – Max Headroom.

Even more dated are the lyrics, which are by turns sexist and homophobic. You probably wouldn’t get much airplay on the Nick Grimshaw Breakfast Show singing this guff nowadays.

Now look at them yo-yo’s that’s the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Money for nothin’ and chicks for free
Now that ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Lemme tell ya them guys ain’t dumb
Maybe get a blister on your little finger
Maybe get a blister on your thumb

We gotta install microwave ovens
Custom kitchen deliveries
We gotta move these refrigerators
We gotta move these colour TVs

See the little faggot with the earring and the makeup
Yeah buddy that’s his own hair
That little faggot got his own jet airplane
That little faggot he’s a millionaire

And so on, until the narrator – a fictional construct, we must add, rather than Knopfler’s own voice – fades out on a receding tide of jealousy and bile.

The song, of course, is about career envy. And that’s why it’s of interest to all us dedicated HR/pop buffs.

Essentially, the story is this: a blue-collar worker employed to shift kitchen appliances covets the lifestyle and rewards he assumes belong to the rock star he sees on the telly. ‘I shoulda learned to play the guitar,’ he moans.

Career envy, according to many psychologists and numerous members of the workplace commentariat, is most definitely a thing. Tanya Menon and Leigh Thompson have written a piece for the Harvard Business Review called ‘Envy at Work’, in which they say:

Envy damages relationships, disrupts teams, and undermines organizational performance. Most of all, it harms the one who feels it. When you’re obsessed with someone else’s success, your self-respect suffers, and you may neglect or even sabotage your own performance and possibly your career. Envy is difficult to manage, in part because it’s hard to admit that we harbor such a socially unacceptable emotion. Our discomfort causes us to conceal and deny our feelings, and that makes things worse. Repressed envy inevitably resurfaces, stronger than ever.

Wow. But on the other hand, there is a positive side to career envy. Mark Hopkins, a business psychologist at Axon Consulting tells us: ‘Feeling envious about other peoples’ career, whether it be the profession they work in, the flexibility and lifestyle it affords them, the status or even the salary, tells you something about yourself.

‘It can help clarify what is important to you and what you value in career and life. It can also help identify why you may not be fully satisfied with life or what you’ve achieved.’

The trick then, is to consider why you feel envious and use this insight to evaluate your career and life goals. ‘Adapt your focus, direction and goals accordingly and put specific actions in place to achieve them,’ Hopkins adds. ‘Use envy as a motivator and a way to drive actions, rather than a negative emotion.’

Next time: Belinda Carlisle’s ‘Heaven is a Place On Earth’ in the light of recent developments in workplace theory.

About the author

Andrew Baird

Andrew is the CEO of HRville. He is also Employer Brand Director of Blackbridge Communications, Editorial Director of Professionals in Law and an associate of The Smarty Train. Previously, he was the MD of TCS Advertising.