Study: Workplace rivalries offer many positives

Science holds that a bit of friendly competition at work can drive productivity. But how much is too much?

Jordan against Bird. Coke vs. Pepsi. You versus Ralph in marketing.

Competition at work can be a healthy source of energy, inspiration and productivity. Without balance, boundaries and empathy, however, unchecked rivalries can quickly turn your culture into a toxic mess.

ResumeLab conducted research on the pros and cons of workplace rivalries and uncovered some surprising takeaways. Key findings include:

  • Nearly 80% of respondents believe it’s beneficial to have “healthy competition” at work.
  • More than 82% of respondents said they are competitive with a co-worker—30% of whom deemed that competition “unhealthy.”
  • Men were twice as likely as women to have a negative rival of the opposite gender.
  • More than 70% of entry-level, intermediate and middle-management employees had rivals in the same position, but more than 1 in 3 senior managers said their rivalry was with someone in a middle-management position.
  • Of those who feel locked into unhealthy competition, just 24% feel their company “promotes a positive atmosphere,” and 19% say their company communicates transparently.

(Image via ResumeLab)

Creating ‘controlled conflict’

How do you strike the balance between healthy competition and all-out workplace warfare? You can’t control how employees interact—especially amid ongoing COVID-19 disruption—but there’s plenty you can do to create a culture that prioritizes clarity and rewards good behavior.

ResumeLab writes:

Employees reporting having positive rivalries at work were roughly 6 percentage points more likely to work for a company that gave honest performance feedback, followed by learning opportunities and rewards for top performers. Compared to 28% of people with negative competition in their office, 39% with positive rivalries indicated their company set realistic goals. The biggest gaps were found among employees who indicated their companies created a positive atmosphere, provided team bonding exercises, and had transparent communication with team members.

(Image via ResumeLab)

Is it worth the risk of stoking potentially raging rivalries? ResumeLab’s data, which shows that 63% of workers believe competition has made them more productive, indicates it is. Healthy competition seems to drive professional development, too. ResumeLab finds that employees with a positive rival were twice as likely than those with a negative rival to earn a promotion. Respondents with a healthy rival also report earning a higher salary and having higher rates of job satisfaction.

On the more troublesome side of that double-edged competition blade, those with a negative workplace rival are three times more likely to report low satisfaction with their job—and with their life.

(Image via ResumeLab)

Competition has the potential to drive us to heights of achievement we didn’t think possible. It taps into a primal source of power, energy and motivation that, when harnessed in a healthy manner, can unleash our full potential. Of course, rivalries can also send us down a path of petty grievances, jealousy, negativity and obsession.

One rivalry road leads to focus and success, the other to bitterness and burnout. Communicators play a pivotal role in creating an environment that fosters the healthy version of this powerful motivational tool.

Read the rest of ResumeLab’s report for more relevant data on workplace competition.

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