Competition in the workplace can mean different things to different people. We all have different competitive styles, and it’s key to our happiness to figure out how to recognize the style that we best fit into.
The authors of “Top Dog” refer to research that says that 25% of people become disengaged when they are put in a competitive situation, 25% of people aren’t impacted at all, and 50% of people seem to benefit from it.
Some strongly believe that competition is what pushes people to excel at what they do and become more productive and efficient. However, some may argue that while feeling challenged certainly makes people perform better, feeling threatened by competition may have the opposite effect.
Some industries are more conducive to competition in the workplace than others, and promote a never-ending competition between their employees. In sales, for example, it is encouraged to be at the top of the leaderboard, and that alone can ignite a fire underneath a workforce and be a strong motivator to work harder in order to keep a certain position.
From a company’s standpoint, productivity and efficiency boosts will ultimately increase production, both at an individual level and among the entire workforce as a whole, which in turn will increase revenue. By incentivizing performance among employees, the chance is far greater that more deals will happen, more contracts will get closed, more products will get shipped, and more customers will be brought in.
However, some highly competitive environments can generate fear, stress and anxiety, especially when employees are focused on the threat of being laid off, losing income, or being embarrassed in front of others. Also, if performance is being judged in relation to other employees, coworkers may not be the most cooperative with others or even look out for the best interest of the company if it gets in the way of reaching their quota or ‘numbers’. This can create a culture where employees are focused on themselves instead of collaborating with their coworkers and instead of looking for the best interest of the company and the customer’s experience.
In “Drive – The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us”, author Daniel Pink shares research that shows that competition and cash rewards (extrinsic motivation), doesn’t last for very long. Only intrinsic motivation – the drive to do well, is what really drives performance.
While incentives are always a plus to get competition going, those who see the bigger picture may take competition in their workplace as an opportunity for their own self-improvement. Self-improvement may include personal actions like goal setting, performing higher work quality, or becoming more focused and organized.
“The ultimate victory in competition is derived from the inner satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best and that you have gotten the most out of what you had to give.” ~ Howard Cosell
A competitive workplace, by its very nature, can isolate good employees that become very uncomfortable with that type of pressure. There are other less competitive environments where positive emotional responses are created instead, simply by changing the focus to valuing customer experience above sales and where collaboration is appreciated more than one-upmanship. When people say they’re “not competitive,” they’re concerned that, to be competitive, they have to be insensitive and cut-throat. Research shows that none of this is true—the best competitors respect their opponents.
While these less competitive environments employ people who prefer collaboration, which is somewhat antithetical to competition, they often have solid long term customer service relationships and keep the competitive spirit focused more on the company’s actual competitors, rather than between their own employees.
You may be the type of person that thrives from the pressure of being pitted against your peers or it may leave you with a racing heart. Having the self-awareness to know what environment works best for you is key. At the end of the day, competition is really about motivation, passion, and pushing yourself to the best of your ability in an environment you feel supported in.