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On several occasions, where I've made a breakthrough in my (highly intellectual, but non-academic) work, I feel accomplished and very proud of my achievement. But, when I go and tell my boss about that some of the verbatim replies I've received were:

  • "I feel jealous that you have that satisfaction." or
  • "I feel annoyed that I couldn't do that myself."

This is never accompanied with "Well done" or "Good job". etc.

These responses makes me feel a bit down and I'm not sure how to react. I'm not a native speaker of English but he is. In my culture, this is rude and crude to say and I'm not sure if he means well... It doesn't feel that way.

Is this normal in a professional setting in an English-speaking Western country (Australia)? Or would native speakers feel the same way I do?

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    This is going to depend a lot on tone of voice, facial expression, and local culture. Conventions around praise vary wildly across the Anglosphere. Can you add any more detail about where you are and what other contextual clues he might be giving?
    – Adam Burke
    May 23 at 1:50
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    My quick answer is it's a bit weird but not an insult.
    – Adam Burke
    May 23 at 1:50
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    Actually "I feel jealous that you have that satisfaction" is very unusual phrasing for a native English speaker. I assume that you have rephrased what your manager actually said, but that changes the meaning of it. The exact words used by your boss are important for this, so if you can, please try to remember what those words were and let us know. May 23 at 13:05
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    I've edited this a little to more accurately reflect the situation. Could you clarify: could the way you bring this to your manager be seen as asking for praise? Or is it normal and expected that you report on a breakthrough or achievement? And given that you also found the phrasing weird, do you have any sense that he's deliberately talking differently to you than colleagues who are native speakers?
    – Lilienthal
    May 23 at 22:20
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    We're hung up on this because you mentioned not being a native speaker yourself - no disrespect intended, your English is very impressive - but those two sentences seem like they are more likely to have come from a non-native speaker. They're quite short and abrupt, they have no filler words or qualifiers, and they don't match in tone to how Australians speak in my experience. As I said below, I would expect e.g. the first sentiment to be expressed a bit more like, "I'm a bit jealous that you got to do something so satisfying".
    – Kayndarr
    May 24 at 7:24

5 Answers 5

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It's meant as a compliment, but it may also show some limitations of your manager.

It's a broad brushstroke, but Australians are less free with compliments than other places. Excessive compliments can be seen as insincere salesmanship. This especially includes self-praise. It even manifests in common greetings: "How are you today?" / "Not bad". Not "good" or "great" - "not bad".

Now it's easy to overdo the cultural conventions stuff, and everyone's an individual. But you might want to recalibrate your expectations of praise. Likewise, the mention of a "monotone voice" - it may well be deadpan delivery of joking self-deprecation. Observe them around the office; do they ever use doubled sarcasm-sincerity with other people?

"I feel jealous" is definitely meant as praise here. The tone matters a lot. The boss might genuinely regret not doing cool things. But I could also easily imagine an Australian manager saying this in a tone of voice which is appreciative, but low-key, and meant to recognize the unique skills you bring to the team.

Edit: Even interpreting this in the most generous way, it does also show a limitation of your manager if he doesn't realize it's weirding you out, instead of buoying you up.

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    "Australians are less free with compliments than other places" I've only been here five years but I've not found this to be the case.
    – jcm
    May 23 at 3:54
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    I would compliment your observational skills, but, well, you know, ...
    – Adam Burke
    May 23 at 4:42
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    Hahaha touché!!
    – jcm
    May 23 at 5:46
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    This is not a great answer, because it attempts to validate the terrible response of "I feel jealous that you have that satisfaction." That response from the boss is a terribly distorted view of everything & it is not a compliment. The boss feels jealous that the employee has satisfaction. That is a ridiculously bad statement. If the boss wants satisfaction then boss can go get it for self. But to say that is a compliment is a misunderstanding of the defective bosses that exist in the world.
    – raddevus
    May 23 at 17:57
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    @raddevus Despite OPs assertion that those phrases are verbatim, I doubt those are the exact words used - because they sound very awkward to my Australian ear. I've never heard anyone start a sentence with exactly "I feel jealous that...". My suspicion is that it was probably something more like, "Aw man, I'm jealous you got to do something cool like that." I've had similar feelings expressed to me by bosses who have e.g. moved up to management roles away from software development, and half-jokingly bemoan that they have to manage timesheets instead of interesting code projects.
    – Kayndarr
    May 24 at 0:32
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I'm going to answer this as an Australian. It is often said that Australians don't like people thinking too highly of themselves. I wonder if that's relevant here.

OK.. So, in several occasions, where I make a breakthrough in my (highly intellectual, but non-academic) work, I feel accomplished and very proud of my achievement. But, when I go and tell my boss about that...

I completely understand status reporting, but if you're seeking out your boss just to get some attaboys, well, I don't begrudge your boss for circumventing your approach.

Personally, it just feels weird to give someone a plain compliment when they have come searching for one. Like, you've put me in a position where I'm forced to give you a compliment, I'm not going to give you the satisfaction.

I don't know what the mentality is, and maybe it's not a healthy one, but I understand it.


For me "I feel jealous that you have that satisfaction." reads like "I don't think it's anything to feel particularity proud about, but if you are, good for you". So yes, bit of a negative statement.

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    That's not fishing for compliments. Fishing for compliments is "oh no, my hair looks so terrible today", "No, your hair looks really beautiful". This is sharing success. In a healthy environment, one can expect acknowledgement for accomplishing something difficult. Doesn't have to be "wow, you're really smart", can just be a plain and simple "nicely done" or even shorter "nice"> May 23 at 12:45
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    Seeking praise is something that good managers encourage in junior employees, it's part of positive reinforcement. Stigmatizing it as "fishing for compliments" is entirely the wrong perspective for a manager to take. May 23 at 13:09
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    @RBarryYoung Really? Managers seriously go to their reports at go: "If you do something good, go round and let everyone know," Maybe that sort of thing is fine in some cultures, but I think generally here in Australia there is a bit of an expectation of modesty. May 23 at 14:03
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    Isn't there also an aspect of Australian managers are "expected" to know everything? Or even buy into it? Thus the reaction "I feel annoyed that I couldn't do that myself." (having subordinates know more than them is unacceptable). I have heard stories (first hand) from a university lab where the manager was wrong, the subordinates knew it, but they did the wrong thing anyway because the manager said so. This led to waste (ruined experiments, waste of money, and waste of time). May 24 at 0:20
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    @RBarryYoung I don't really understand what interpretation of the phrase you're expecting me to make here. If you say "seek praise", I'm going to assume you literally mean "seek praise". If you mean: "Don't seek praise, but report the status of your work (good or bad) according to standard reporting procedures", then that's a very strange way to say that. May 24 at 4:31
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Is this normal in a professional setting in an English-speaking Western country?

There is no 'normal', but it is unprofessional as it neglects an opportunity to boost confidence and job satisfaction in a staff member which is something bosses should be actively doing when an opportunity presents itself.

It could be taken positively as a back handed compliment, and that is how I suggest you approach it. There is no need to allow it to impact on your morale. It is your achievement at the end of the day.

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One of the downsides to being a manager in a technical or scientific field is that you don't really get to dig down into the nitty-gritty details and get your hands dirty once you become a manager.

Managers are busy "managing" and rarely get to experience the "Ah-ha!" moment that comes from solving a technical challenge of some sort. The claim of jealousy from your manager may be literal. He literally wishes that he could have had the satisfaction that you had when making your achievement, but instead he his time was spent filling out employee reviews, reading over quality metrics, and responding to boring emails.

It's an awkward complement which is indeed praising your accomplishment while also attempting to draw attention to the annoying work that the manager is doing. Ditto for the “I feel annoyed that I couldn’t do that myself” comment. Your manager wants to be working in the field, but instead he is pushing paper and likely unhappy.

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    This to me sounds like the most pertinent answer. It does sound to me as well as if the manager was not too satisfied with his own achievements, and that shines through. May 25 at 7:14
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    I agree. The manager is expressing sorrow that they can't do the fun stuff anymore, and probably regret that their career path has led them here. A lamentation, if you will.
    – Mohair
    May 25 at 15:53
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Sadly, very few managers feel comfortable praising their staff, even when those staff have done an excellent job. This might be partly because the think the staff will get big-headed and demand more money, but also because the manager feels somewhat inadequate, being just an observer of this excellent work.

So if you are looking for praise, you'll generally be disappointed, and you have to comfort yourself with the knowledge that you have done a good job, even if others can't bring themselves to say so.

You can also derive great satisfaction from the fact that you have these talents, and an opportunity to exercise them. There are so many bright people who, through no fault of their own, have no opportunity to be so creative - maybe you should allow them to be slightly envious of your position.

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    Unsure why this is down-voted, because it is a valid (and realistic answer -- possibly the most effective answer to actually carry out). If people don't like the answer, it doesn't mean it isn't helpful & possibly the most realistic answer to the situation.
    – raddevus
    May 23 at 17:54
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    @raddevus It might be because the answer says "very few managers". If people disagree on whether this is typical manager behavior then they might think it isn't helpful to tell the OP that they shouldn't expect praise from higher ups in general.
    – BSMP
    May 23 at 18:26
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    @BSMP Indeed - that was the reason for my downvote.
    – deep64blue
    May 24 at 10:13

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