Can Internal Competitions Improve Workplace Behavior?

BY Kathy Crosett
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If you’re a manager of a certain age, you may have been raised in the environment of extreme cooperation. But your predecessors were likely taught that competition matters, and it was the best way to get ahead. Regardless of past experiences, as we enter a period of economic uncertainty, productivity and workplace behavior are becoming more important. Your team members need to get the message. Should you set up internal competitions to prod employees who seem perfectly happy to engage in quiet quitting? Or would another motivator be more effective?

Optimizing Workplace Behavior and Output

Managers have been struggling with employee workplace behavior and output for some time. Most employees want to do a good job but encounter uncaring managers and processes that make little sense in some cases. In other cases, employees were hired into a benefit-​rich workplace and not coached to maximize output. As economic pressures increase, even the most benevolent employers, such as Google, are cutting access to free massages and encouraging team members to be more efficient.

In his recent Wall Street Journal article, Greg Clarke discussed various ways that managers can coax more work out of their employees. Part of the issue centers around how to motivate team members. In the recent past, the stack-​ranking system enjoyed popularity. And these systems made it easy for managers to identify the lowest performers. Employees who valued their jobs worked hard to avoid being placed at the bottom of the list.

Kinder Competition

Younger workers may respond well to a gamified atmosphere when you’re trying to boost productivity. If all your employees are working toward a single goal, such as completing a project, establish metrics for each of them to achieve. The experts recommend staying away from a “winner-​takes-​all” prize. When you’re faced with a big deadline, gather your team and encourage them to commit to individual goals. Then ask them to agree on how to divide a prize which may be monetary or some PTO. The fun part for many team members will be cooperating as they achieve the goals, especially if you can set up additional rewards for positive workplace behavior.

Workplace Rivalries

Clarke points out that some managers have no problem letting workplace rivalry exist. In fact, they believe it’s one way to cut down on quiet quitting. Their belief is based on the fact that employees always notice who is getting the best assignments (i.e. the ones that have traditionally led to promotions) and who gets “face time” with the bosses. If you can demonstrate that the best projects are going to the hardest workers, you can motivate the slackers to try a little harder.

In any competitive environment, some behavior may exceed what you and your organization should accept. Employees with combative natures may exhibit toxic workplace behavior such as shouting at each other or deliberately leaving rivals out of their meetings. When workers have pitted themselves against each other and have created a disruptive work environment, you may want to back off on any competitive goal setting that involves only those two individuals.

Another strategy may be to ask these employees to serve on a team that is not related to their primary work. The goal in this example is to encourage them to get to know each other as human beings who share common life goals and perhaps, interests.

Increasing Output

Some of your team members will thrive on competition and appreciate knowing where they stand. Others won’t. You can understand more about the motivations of these employees by reviewing their psychometric assessments. Encourage your managers to use this data when they are creating teams or internal competitions. Appealing to each employee’s motivation is the best way to optimize their experience and workplace behavior.

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