July 19, 2021 4 min read

There’s always a bit of workplace competition brewing within a company’s culture. As business and marketing professionals, we’re natural change-makers and creative thinkers. Sometimes that competitiveness can be on the lighter side, fueling everyone consistently while other times… let’s just say, it’s a tad strong and ruins the pot. That’s why healthy competition in the workplace needs to be balanced with compassion. We’re all on the same team after all. Learn how to spot the signs so you can contribute the right way.

Defining Friendly Competition

First and foremost, it’s important to have defined guidelines around any competition. You can’t play a game if you don’t know the rules. Understanding the what’s and why’s of competition at work will spell out if it’s all in good fun. Here are a few buckets that workplace competitions can fall into.

Social Competitions

Formally known as employee engagement activities, these are meant to act as team-building exercises that ultimately nurture goodwill between employees. It also shakes things up a bit from the regular workday.

Young smiling professional holding manila folder in front of laptop sitting on living room table.

During the pandemic, managers and leaders alike truly had to think outside the norm to find alternative modes of keeping their teams connected with each other and with the organization as a whole. Suddenly that casual happy hour that was once a month evolved to something more involved. Did someone say trivia? Or a themed photo competition?

An incentive like a digital gift card or just simple bragging rights sets the tone. Getting involved in such activities marks you as a team player and generally, a fun person to be around. Sounds like a good time, right?

Performance Competitions

These sorts of competitions have been around for quite some time (employee of the month ring a bell?) and some organizations have taken great strides to refresh them.

By gamifying processes like sales, quality assurance and social awareness, a fun element is naturally added. At the same time, these competitions and contests recognize the work everyone does regularly and offer a little something extra to make it that much more special. Everyone’s on the same page and that unified goal sprouts motivation. The important factor here is keeping the professionalism from start to finish. Acknowledging everyone’s amazing performance, keeps the friendly spirit strong. So celebrate the wins when you can!

Unhealthy Competitions

Like any sport, sometimes emotions run high and foster a competitive environment that proves to be anything but productive. When competitions take a sharp turn and transform from invigorating to negative experiences, it’s time to take a step back. Knowing when to spot the warning signs and how to address them will help you steer your way through without getting caught in the drama.

  • Egos. When the narrative changes from ‘we’ to “I vs. them”, egos could be running rampant. When this shift happens, it’s important to get the conversation back on track about the objectives that everyone shares.
  • Communication Breakdown. The office banter that was once welcomed becomes replaced with stony silence. Competition shouldn’t divide coworkers and create silos. It should do the opposite: encourage free-flowing communication to get the creative juices running. If it’s too quiet, and information is being withheld, it’s time to schedule some check-ins for open and honest discussions.
  • Overwhelming Pressure If you’re consistently ruminating on the competition and not focusing on your work and performance, the pressure might have gotten to you. Healthy competitions should motivate you with excitement rather than fear. If the fun isn’t there anymore, remind yourself what the benefits are. That way, when you find yourself coming back to the ‘win, win, win’ train of thought of, replace it with the goals to alleviate that pressure.

Channel Your Workplace Competition to Workplace Motivation

Speaking of which, how exactly do you keep yourself in check? We all like to win which means we tend to connect losing with failure. That kind of thinking could lead you to some unhealthy ways of thinking and competing. It’s important to take a different look at workplace competitions. Instead of allowing your competitive nature to get the best of you or your insecurities.

Two smiling coworkers looking at tablet together in an office.

Find your stride. Take a page out of your colleagues’ book and hit the ground running. Not sure how they accomplished what they did? Make this a learning opportunity and arrange a coffee chat to get the conversation started. You’d be surprised at how forthcoming people are once you level with them.

From there, take what you’ve learned and make it your own. The key is to use this as motivation for your performance and align properly. You may not be able to do what your colleague achieved to a perfect “T” but maybe on the road there, you find some gains that are completely your own.

Rediscovering Your Company Culture

Another benefit to workplace competitions is rediscovering your company culture. They say a lot about the culture within an organization and are concrete proof of your company’s values. Connect the dots on whether these competitions align properly and if there’s a need for improvement. You may be the one who will help reshape your workplace culture by introducing a few new ideas. What did we say about change makers? That’s right; that you are one.

So next time there’s a callout for Zoom Bingo or a marathon, maybe it’s time to step up to the challenge. Get to know your teammates better. Learn something new. Embody your company’s culture. And of course, have fun all along the way.


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