Is Workplace Competition Good for You?

A look at how office competition plays out for you, your competitor, colleagues, and your employer.

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Andrew G.R.
It's often said that competition brings the best out in people. This might be true in a boxing match, on a football field, or during a Monopoly throwdown, but what does a head-to-head battle yield in the workplace?

Let's look at each of the four parties involved:


  • Pressure can lead to stress. Just the right amount can be a beautiful thing (i.e., the butterflies in your stomach when you first kissed the girl/guy). But when your competitor turns up the heat and forces you to engage when you're not interested, the stress can become too much. And stress is good friends with anger, which can lead to...
    • Misdirected energy. Now, instead of concentrating on work and how you can improve things, you are getting lost in "the game"—how you can best the enemy or take a competitor down. You start to make strategic moves as an individual. Before you know it, it's evident to all that you are "not a team player." However...
      • Being pushed to perform can help your personal development, making you worth more beyond the walls of work. It will also keep you busy, and we all know that boredom at work never leads to anything good. You might even surprise yourself with what you are capable of.

        If you happen to be engaged in some "friendly" career competition, identify whether you are playing offense or defense. Also ask yourself why the battle exists. Take a step back and look at the situation globally. You might get better insight into why "it's on!" It might be a lot less personal than you think. The concept of unity is swell, but try to take a paycheck out of the hands of a family and watch how individualistic things become.


        My dad has always told me to "sit back and enjoy the show." It's not every day you get to attend the circus for free. But work can be exactly that—and they pay you, too! Don't encourage any tension or interject yourself in order to make things better or worse for either participant. Rather, observe motivation and tactics, and try your best to learn how each person chooses to engage. That way, you'll be ready for the competition should it seek you out in the future.


        Ah, we've finally come to the true beneficiary of competition—maybe that's why they like it so darn much. If Joe and Tom are battling for the same position, each is likely to put in more hours and work harder, thereby giving the company more. It should be noted, however, that there are organizations that frown upon competition (like that sleepy mom and pop office that just wants everyone to get along). Your boss will like the battle until it crosses his desk and takes up his time. 

        One final thought on competition at work: If enough time passes, rivals can be paired together, kinda like peanut butter and jelly, or the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. I'm all for team play, but you should be judged by your own merit. What grown adult needs a shadow? Not this one.

        Your Turn:

        We'd love to hear how you feel about workplace competition. How is it regarded where you work? Is it fostered? Frowned upon? Speak out!

        After holding down various media jobs, including stops at MTV Networks and Fox News, Andrew G.R. was completely discouragednot only about his own career but about the lack of job resources that truly spoke to him. Enter, the employment blog and podcast designed to Make Work Better.