Does Competition Among Employees Work as a Motivator? 

Can competition among employees serve as a motivator of performance? This is quite a conundrum, because there are arguments on both sides of the coin. Perhaps you’ve just read an article saying that competition is a brilliant way to encourage employees to a higher level of performance by stimulating their competitive spirit. That article may be right, but there are also individuals who shy away from competitive situations—such scenarios could actually hinder their ability to perform well. In short, it depends on the personalities of the employees and whether the work tasks lend themselves well to a competitive environment. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of competitive work environments. 

Pros: How Competitive Work Environments Can Motivate Employees to Higher Performance

Here are some of the benefits to a competitive working environment:

  • Many people are naturally competitive. Tapping into this instinct can be an easy and effective way to get employees to achieve more than they otherwise would have.
  • Competition can naturally reduce indifference and laziness. By changing the work atmosphere and attitude, employers can motivate people who would be more naturally inclined to just get by with minimal effort.
  • Creating incentives to achieve more can foster innovations that may otherwise have never been implemented. Competition can even focus on innovation if that’s the goal.
  • Many people feel it creates a positive environment. For many, competition makes work more fun and engaging and gives employees something to look forward to.
  • It can lead to employees taking on more responsibility. This is especially true if the competition creates an environment where doing so is required or encouraged.

Cons: How Competition Can Harm Employee Motivation Levels

Here are some of the potential downfalls of a competitive working environment:

  • Some people get frustrated by a work environment that feels competitive, preferring to do their job and be evaluated against clear goals—not against an ever-changing environment and internal competition.
  • Constant comparison can be exhausting and can eventually be a de-motivator. Even for employees who are performing well, it can be frustrating for the competition to be continual. This type of environment is stressful.
  • If employees view one another as competitors, it can sabotage collaboration and teamwork. It can even cause workers to sabotage one another’s efforts in order to get ahead, leading to mistrust and fear, which is not a good working environment.
  • Organizational goals can get lost in the fray. If employees focus more on beating the competition within the organization than on actually achieving the organization’s goals, this could mean they are being less productive overall in moving the company or project forward.
  • When an individual doesn’t “win” the competition, that can be a de-motivator from there on out, thus reducing future productivity after the first contest ends. In other words, it can create a “if you can’t win, why bother trying?” mindset.
  • Morale can decrease. If competition is tied to the possibility of being fired (e.g., the lowest performer or lowest 10 percent of performers are let go), it has the potential to negatively affect morale. Furthermore, the organization will eventually be firing great employees simply because of a ranking system.

It pays to give close attention to company culture. Has your organization considered using competition as a motivator? Would a competitive environment be a good fit … or would it potentially destroy a culture of teamwork, collaboration, and camaraderie?