Workplace competition can be healthy because it encourages employees to excel and push past their comfort zones while helping teams achieve their business goals. However, rivalries can sometimes get out of hand and cause turmoil and workplace conflicts. Small business owners and managers must create a workplace culture that strikes a delicate balance between competition and teamwork.
We’ll explore how office rivalries affect the workplace positively and negatively and share tips for ensuring team members thrive in a supportive atmosphere of collaboration.
Rivalries are common in the workplace, with or without management encouraging competition. Whether you want to benefit from friendly competition in the workplace or manage existing rivalries, it’s essential to understand the positive and negative aspects of a competitive company culture.
A competitive working environment can have the following benefits:
However, workplace competition can sometimes create a sour atmosphere where employees view one another as enemies. Here are some of the downsides of workplace competition:
So how does a business encourage the motivational and innovative aspects of workplace competition without experiencing the darker side of anxiety and hostility? It requires a balance, consideration of employees’ personalities, and a positive attitude from management.
Here are some ways to proactively encourage healthy competition among employees or manage current rivalries.
Beyond money, businesses need incentives to motivate employees and help them thrive. “Research tells us that people are less motivated by extrinsic factors [competition, cash rewards] and more motivated by intrinsic factors,” said Gal Rimon, founder and CEO of Centrical. “Additionally, extrinsic factors may create a sudden spike in performance, but intrinsic factors are more likely to generate a long-term behavioral change.”
To encourage healthy competition, Rimon suggested having employees set career goals for themselves, comparing their performance to a benchmarked performance of someone at their level. This method is similar to how fitness trackers encourage people to move more.
“If you count steps, you’re going to walk more,” Rimon said. “So if you get real-time feedback about your job performance, you are going to do better. The same drive can be leveraged by having managers set goals that employees can track in real time, relative to themselves, channeling that intrinsic drive.”
Even if management isn’t actively fostering a competitive environment, rivalries may cause negative feelings and a toxic atmosphere. Mary Ellen Slayter, a career advice expert for Monster, advised management to help employees counter competitive tension by finding common ground through sports, shared hobbies or after-hours events.
Slater said employees who are stuck in a hostile atmosphere should make proactive changes. “If you can’t get the tension under control, find ways to distance yourself from your adversary,” Slayter advised. “Explore your options — from switching desks to switching companies — and remember that living, and working, well is the best revenge.”
Motivated employees are a crucial asset to any business owner. Enjoyable challenges spur motivation and can be an excellent way to inspire and engage employees.
Gamification can help make workplace competition fun without pitting employees against each other. Consider gamifying employee engagement by challenging employees to beat their personal goals and top their previous performance. This type of competition can encourage employees to step up without having to publicly outdo the competition.
Tips for friendly workplace competition
Here are some additional quick tips for keeping rivalries friendly in the workplace and boosting productivity.
Everyone’s an adult in the workplace and can handle competition, disagreements and even personality conflicts. However, workplace competition must stay respectful and friendly because it can affect the entire office and business operations when it goes sour.
Encourage employees to challenge one another without conflict and cheer on each other’s successes. Keep communication channels open to stay on top of the office atmosphere, and step in when rivalries become too intense. The goal is to encourage motivation and every team member’s professional development.
Adam Uzialko contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.