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Competition and its place in the professional world

Competition and its place in the professional world

​Throughout the Spring and Summer season in Australia, I play beach volleyball competitively. Roughly every other weekend there is a tournament, and last weekend was round 2 of the season. Despite the hit and miss springtime weather which I’ve so grown to love here in St Kilda, it was a good but not great start to our campaign. After some pretty intense play and some encouraging words from partner to partner, we ended up placing 5th of 12 teams in our division.

Why am I telling you all this?

I’m a competitive person. Obviously, no one enjoys losing, but for me, it goes further than that. As I mentioned in my previous article, I do have a tendency to beat myself up – but regardless, my competitive edge sometimes gets the better of me and I can become pretty frustrated.

The tournament got me thinking about competition’s place in the working environment, how it can motivate some and demotivate others completely. The concept of competition has actually been proven not only to change the way we think but to bring about physiological changes in humans – that is, your body and mind responding physically to the idea of being in competition – which can improve brain function and as such productivity. But, on the other hand, those physical reactions may also include symptoms of anxiety, panic even, and fast become counterproductive.

It’s a fine line.

Certain professions – my own, recruitment, being one of them – can benefit greatly from an air of competition and the often results-orientated reward systems which go with them. Sales is another obvious one, but competition can play an important role in the legal sector, PR and marketing and even more techy-roles such as software engineering and development. Competition breeds innovation, and as such it can be a helpful tool.

With that being said, it’s important not to go too far the other way; when does competition stop helping progression and begin creating barriers?

As a manager myself, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to motivate my team. Here are my thoughts on the core factors for a healthily competitive office environment.

Create excitement, not anxiety

The prospect of competition amongst your employees should be a positive one, not a negative; it’s not about punishing the losses but celebrating the wins.

Highlighting top performers in any profession is key – studies show that physical reward or not, recognition in the workplace goes a long way towards motivation. But steer way clear of anything which could be perceived as ‘naming and shaming’; nothing takes the fight out of a person more than being touted as the loser of the show. Sure, the odd hyper-competitive individual may hear that they’re trailing and step up their game – but is that the kind of environment you want to promote or be a part of? I’m leaning towards a hard ‘no’.

Encourage innovation, not short-cuts

What we don’t want our employees doing is feeling as though they must win at any cost – the term ‘by hook or by crook’ comes to mind, ‘crook’ being the operative word.

Competition in the workplace has proven to encourage people to come up with new ways of working, new routes to the goal they’re trying to achieve – innovation. Unfortunately, for the uber-competitive amongst us, it could be taken too seriously – you don’t want your employees feeling as though they must win, whether the job is done properly or not.

Keep it clean, keep it healthy

Banter is one thing – but it can go too far quickly and without warning. As a manager, it’s your job to make sure that the competition is as healthy as can be, without encouraging employees to put their co-workers down as a result. The ego is a real thing, and it must be managed as such; keep office chatter in check and make sure the environment is a heartening and supportive one for all involved.

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