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Is Competition in the Workplace Good for Productivity?


A little healthy competition can be an effective motivator in the workplace, but it can backfire if it is not done carefully. Too much competition can sometimes result in negativity and hostility–neither of which will do much by way of employee productivity.

Regardless of what industry you work in, there is bound to be a little bit of competition between colleagues. Learning to create the right kind of competition means everything when it comes to maintaining a productive and friendly office atmosphere.

Promoting Competition in the Workplace to Increase Productivity (the right way)

Here are some guidelines on how to manage and promote competition in the workplace to inspire and motivate your employees in a healthy way.

Emotions and Competition in the Workplace

While some competition amongst employees can inspire creativity and serve as a helpful motivator, the flip side of a competitive environment is that it can trigger anxiety, fear, and frustration. If employees feel like their job status, income or integrity could be compromised, competition can become uncomfortable and in turn, unhelpful.

The Harvard Business Review did a study that surveyed 204 employees from different industries on policies in the workplace such as bonuses, performance management, and promotions. The survey focused on how these kinds of policies made them feel and also how they responded to them.

The results demonstrated that when people felt anxious or fearful about policies, they were much more likely to respond in unethical and cutthroat ways in order to meet expectations. Some examples of unethical behavior reported by the participants in this study included taking credit for the work of their colleagues and attempting to sabotage coworkers by not following through on promises to help them.

The good news is, the study also found that when employees felt excited about competition rather than fearful, they were much more prone to feel inspired. This generally causes people to respond in more creative and productive ways. Reactions to excitement-inducing competition given by participants included anything from searching for new technologies and product ideas to brainstorming innovative processes and techniques for success. All of these responses are more ideal and ultimately, would be much more beneficial than cutting corners or sabotaging coworkers, especially from a business standpoint.

Fostering Healthy Competition in the Workplace


Ultimately, we know that the way employees feel about competition within the workplace will be a huge determining factor when it comes to how they respond.

When employees are worried about competition, or they feel a strong need to win for fear of losing something, they are likely to respond negatively. While it might not seem like a huge issue for your employees to want to do well, if they start hurting one another to succeed, your business is likely to suffer. A significant amount of our daily lives are spent amongst our colleagues, so it is always important for the atmosphere to be one of trust and productivity–not fear and desperation.

Leaders can manage competitive environments by reframing the way they talk about competition within the workplace. Here are some tips on how to address competition in a way that will inspire positive emotions, rather than negative ones.

Avoid Public Humiliation

This might seem obvious, but sometimes discussing losing teams, individuals, or low performers in a group setting can be humiliating for employees. This can cause a lot of people to feel anxious before they even determine how to respond to a competition and may alter their performance.

For many industries where there is a heavy sales culture present, discussing these statistics is sometimes difficult to avoid. When it comes to announcing or revealing results from a work-related competition, it can be helpful to focus on positives rather than drawing too much attention to those that fell short. If you have to point out everyone’s performance, try to highlight places where lower performing employees succeeded or did well–even if they did not reach their goals.

Focus on Positive Outcomes

Sometimes employees can become so focused on what they stand to lose if they don’t hit a certain target or get a promotion, that they lose sight of the excitement and revert to negative thought patterns.

When talking about competitive policies like promotions and bonuses within the workplace, try to make an effort to do so with excitement. Outline the positive outcomes to get employees excited about what they could gain, rather than what they will potentially lose. Your attitude will be contagious and as a leader, it is your responsibility to set the tone. For smaller scale competitions, try to create outcomes where the only option is to gain something, such as a gift card, or leaving early on Friday.

Avoid Unnecessary Competitions

There is a time and a place for competition, and it’s not right for every situation. Competition within the workplace should always have clear goals and serve as a targeted solution to improve your business in one way or another.

Competition is a strong force within the workplace, but the scales can easily be tipped from excitement to hostility. Create meaningful competitions and always be sure to stress what the goals are and how they might serve to improve the customer experience or the business as a whole.

Foster Community and Collaboration

Harmony and workplace culture are important in any environment, but it is especially significant for those that are brimming with millennials. This generation of employees aren’t looking to step on top of one another in order to get ahead. They thrive on workplace culture and like to form positive and meaningful relationships with one another.

Look to create competitions that will encourage your employees to work together to come up with innovative ideas and creative solutions to problems. Regardless of the age of your staff, they will work much better as a whole if they are not constantly looking for ways to sabotage one another–or trying to avoid being sabotaged.

Encourage Employees to Set Goals

Sometimes, our biggest competition is the one we have with ourselves. A great way to avoid creating a hostile environment within the workplace is to focus on intrinsic competition.

Help employees set goals for themselves and provide consistent feedback to let them know how they are doing. In order to stay motivated, there has to be some level of competition at work, but when we’re trying to outdo and improve ourselves, it can be much easier to manage.

If done correctly, competition in the workplace can definitely increase productivity. After a competition is complete you can reward your employees with some pretty satisfying incentives – have them travel to an exotic place, hold an appreciation event, or even schedule a fun team building day. Contact the experts at MTI Events to start putting together your incentive program today!

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