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Is Competition Among Co-Workers a Good Thing?

Ritika Trikha

A little friendly competition with your co-workers can be the source of motivation you need to achieve great heights. It's also often a natural impulse. Say, for instance, there's a new hire in your department--it's natural to wonder: Is this guy going to show me up? At the same time, constantly comparing yourself with a colleague can be self-defeating.

It all depends on your personality and preference. "If you want to be individually rewarded and are achievement motivated, then you will want some competition," says Brad Brummel, assistant professor at the University of Tulsa and a member on CareerBliss' board of advisors. "If you are more communally focused and want your co-workers to be like a family, then you will prefer the collaboration."

It's really up to you if you want a competitive work lifestyle. Here are some pros and cons to consider before you decide:

PRO: Competition ignites motivation to boost your performance and productivity.

If the end goal is to outpace another colleague, you'll likely get more done than if you weren't in competition at all. Earning that win can also feel self-validating. Brummel suggests you consider these important questions: "What do you get praised for? Are individuals specifically chosen for raises or bonuses or does everyone share in successes?"

Some companies have reward systems that foster competition. For instance, General Electric and Groupon have been known to cut the bottom 10 percent of their employees annually. In this type of reward system, staying competitive is essential to avoid getting the boot.

CON: Constantly comparing yourself to others can fuel unhappiness.

As the saying goes, "comparison is the thief of joy." There's always going to be someone better than you, and constantly chasing after perfection is like a dog chasing its tail. Even if you do hit a home run at work, the satisfaction is often short-lived because it's on to the next feat.

Rather than using others' goals as benchmarks for your own, Steve Lowell, a manager for, a marketplace for voice over talent and voice producers, says "success should be measured in the form of self-defined goals. After seeing that success, then key performance indicators should weigh these achievements against the success of other colleagues."

PRO: Competition zaps complacency and pushes you out of your comfort zone.

A competitive environment has no room for laziness or mediocrity. You're held accountable for your work and achievements, and failure to perform will leave space for your competitors to zoom ahead. Competition in general is a strong incentive to push yourself beyond your normal call of duty. In a competitive environment, bored employees are as rare as ligers (hybrids between male lions and female tigers).

CON: A competitive work environment hinders collaboration.

If every man is for himself, then he has little incentive to focus on the organization's goals. Together, you and your colleagues have a much higher chance of beating out your top business competitors than if each of you is preoccupied with beating each other.

"In order for a team to work, each person has to come to the table with unique skills and ideas. And then, when the team collaborates on specific projects, everyone can bring something outstanding--and a little bit different--to the group. Synergy!" says Suki Shah, chief executive officer at

Alternatively, while individual competition discourages sharing talent, team competition can still stir the pot and also fuel collaboration among team members.

PRO: Competition encourages quality and innovation.

In addition to being more productive, competitive colleagues are also under constant pressure to perform in new and potentially better ways. Some have said that competition is the mother of innovation. Organized competitive environments tend to reward those that stand out from the rest. Who can deliver the most unique and efficient product? Simply doing your job well isn't enough to stand out. To beat the rest, competition can encourage employees to go above and beyond to do their job better and differently.

CON: Fierce competition can lead to a stressful company culture.

While it's possible to be congenial, fierce competition opens up opportunities for negative feelings: discouragement, resentment, mistrust, or envy.

"We get into a swirl about which of us is better than the other, and it leads us to do things we probably shouldn't have done," says Laurie Battaglia, a certified professional career coach.

But what happens later when a competitor becomes a boss, a close peer, or a subordinate? Battaglia suggests picking a role model rather than a competitor. "Select someone who you'd like to emulate, who leads the kind of life and has the kind of career that you aspire to," she says. This can be another, less stressful source of motivation.

Ritika Trikha is a writer for CareerBliss, an online career community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Check out CareerBliss for millions of job listings, company reviews, salary information, and a free career happiness assessment.

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