Friendly Rivalry or Risky Business? How to Tell When Employee Competition Has Gone Too Far

Friendly Rivalry or Risky Business? How to Tell When Employee Competition Has Gone Too Far

This article was updated on September 18, 2018.

A little competition never hurt anyone, right? As noted by Forbes, many organizations use employee competition to help motivate workers and drive productivity. But what happens when friendly banter becomes something more sinister? Unfortunately, this level of internal competition can have negative repercussions. Here's a quick overview of how you can identify this kind of behavior and get your business back on track.

Know What Works

Many businesses are founded on the idea of competition. After all, you're not looking to be second- or third-best in your market. Instead, you want to become the go-to solution for your customer base. It's hardly surprising, then, that some of the most successful businesses encourage an atmosphere of healthy employee competition. According to the Forbes article, this process often involves making competition transparent, public and far-reaching. For example, you can use leaderboards as powerful motivation tools, and you can leverage social media as a way to encourage competitions across satellite offices or among remote workers.

Meanwhile, according to Entrepreneur, it's also important to regularly recognize high achievers for their performance and set up ways for current underachievers to learn from their example. You can also help encourage the development of healthy rivalries in small offices by hiring the right people. Entrepreneur recommends recruiting individuals who are goal-oriented but likable.

Read the Signs

So how do you know if one of your employees is stepping over the line? As noted by the Wall Street Journal, it's worth keeping an eye out for "hypercompetitive" individuals. These employees tend to turn any task into a race to the finish, claim sole credit for shared tasks or regularly leave other employees out of the loop.

Even if this level of competition bears some sales fruit, it's important for you to think about the larger impacts: Can the employee handle the customer volume on his or her own, and are consumers suffering through long wait times and subpar service as a result?

Be Upfront Concerning Your Expectations

Not-so-friendly rivalries can quickly kill office motivation. Workers are often forced to choose sides, and they may experience performance falloffs as they attempt to stay out of the way and avoid being targeted by either party. The best solution is to get in the middle of the situation. Instead of waiting for a natural "winner" to emerge, make it clear that while employee competition might drive short-term success, long-term results are only possible through collaboration. Be upfront about your expectation that employees should work together to achieve common goals.

The bottom line is that a little internal competition can drive productivity, but excessive employee competition can have a negative impact on your business as a whole. If this ratio is off, you should try to find the source and take quick action to restore the balance.