Stephanie Naznitsky’s top tips on how to manage workplace competition and encourage teamwork

In the natural world, competition can be a matter of life and death. In the workplace, it’s about achievement – in the form of recognition and career advancement. While some level of employee rivalry is healthy and can increase motivation and productivity, too much can have the opposite effect, leading to an unpleasant work environment.

Recent research from Robert Half reveals that coworker rivalries have intensified throughout 2020, as employees and firms strive to meet the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 1 in 4 professionals (28%) reported a rise in competition levels compared to a year ago. In addition, men were more likely than women to note a spike in competitive behavior. And working parents were twice as likely as their child-free colleagues to feel heightened competition.

If competitiveness is rising in response to a stressful event like a global pandemic, it’s unlikely to represent a positive trend. So how can administrative professionals help create an organizational culture where collaborators thrive, and hypercompetitive colleagues change their ways?

Dealing with over-competitive colleagues

Some people are naturally more competitive than others. Whether they’re playing sports or striving to beat deadlines, they’re highly motivated by the chance to excel. If this translates to better focus, engagement and productivity, that’s great. But when a colleague starts taking credit for your work, talking over you at meetings or trying to drag you down, it’s time to take action.

Consider their motives

Competitiveness can be a sign of fragile self-esteem or problems beneath the surface. Perhaps this colleague is dealing with stress at home and feels pressured to get a promotion. Or maybe their job is on the line and this is their way of coping. Understanding the reasons behind their behavior can help you feel empathetic rather than defensive.

Don’t fan the fire

 It takes two to compete, and your coworker may be getting a kick from your emotional response. Next time they start bragging about their achievements, focus on being polite and civil, and refuse to get drawn in.

 Be direct

If a team member repeatedly makes you look bad in front of others, talk to them about how it makes you feel and give them some examples. If the behavior persists, speak to your boss or HR contact.

 Make them an ally

 Rather than ignoring a competitive coworker, try to win them over. Ask their advice, compliment their good ideas and use inclusive language, such as “we” rather than “I.”

Focus on yourself

 It’s easy to let power struggles distract you from your work. Remember to stay focused on your own performance and goals, finding ways to add value to your team and the wider business.

Ways to encourage healthy competition

Away days and traditional team-building sessions might be on hold right now, but there are still plenty of ways for colleagues to channel their competitiveness in a positive way. Dispersed teams often need someone who can take the lead on organizing activities that bring people together. As an administrative professional, you can add tremendous value if you are that person.

Make it exciting

Healthy competition is fun and engaging and can be based on incentives and rewards. Whether it’s for bragging rights, a charity donation or a small prize, a light-hearted game – like trivia or a quiz – can foster a sense of camaraderie.

Compete in groups

There’s nothing like teamwork to encourage healthy competition. A pandemic-friendly option is to create a virtual challenge. This could be something recreational, like an online escape room or a contest to overcome a job-related obstacle.

Fitness challenges

With workers largely confined to their home offices, getting people moving can only be a good thing. From virtual fun runs that raise money for charity to online group yoga classes, exercise improves both mental and physical well-being.

Competitive workers can be a great asset to any team, as long as their energies are channeled in the right way. If you can help your colleagues establish trust and prioritize common goals over personal glory, everyone wins.

Stephanie Naznitsky is executive director of the administrative and customer support practice at Robert Half, the world’s first and largest specialized talent solutions firm, where she manages operations for nearly 300 practice locations worldwide. For ... (Read More)

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