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Three Negative Effects of Competition in Recognition

Competition at Work

While competition can motivate employees to work their hardest and bring out their best performance, it can also have negative effects on individual employees and teams. Today, we’re giving you three reasons not to over-use competitions as recognition and rewards, as well as three tips for turning the negatives into positives.

Negative Effects of Competition

1. Lower self-esteem. Most recognition and incentive programs, including competitions, only reward the high performers—i.e. the top dogs. But, as you can see from the bell curve below, high performers only make up about 10% of your workforce.

Competitions can result in lower self-esteem because 90% of your workforce doesn’t get recognized. And if they’re not getting recognized (a positive motivator), they could be experiencing fear and anxiety: fear that they’ll disappoint their boss, coworkers, etc. And anxiety about their work or standing with the company because they feel they can’t measure up.

2. Focus on the wrong things. Competition can create an environment where employees are focused more on their competitors than on their own work. This can happen in two ways: 1) External competition—focusing on business competitors and imitating (and one-upping) them rather than coming up with original ideas, and 2) Internal competition—focusing on how coworkers are doing and only being concerned with staying just ahead of them rather than doing your personal best.

3. Work/life imbalance. Competition can also breed an unhealthy outlook on the work/life balance, and actually create an imbalance. How? By feeling so much pressure to succeed at work that they: 1) spend too much time at the office, 2) work while they’re at home with their family in the evenings, or 3) give up other interests and hobbies to make time for work.

What Can You Do Instead?

Here are our top three tips for turning these negatives of competition into positives!

Use competition sparingly. Instead of using competitions frequently, use them sparingly. There are so many other ways to recognize your employees . . . ones that facilitate job satisfaction, teamwork, and above-and-beyond performance. Check out our blog for countless suggestions!

Personalize recognition to your team. Competitions can be a shortcut for recognition. It’s what we know, it’s easy to organize, and so we use it more often than we should. Instead, put effort into getting to know your team members individually and finding out what motivates them . . . and then do it! It may require having a few more recognition tools on hand, but it’ll be worth it in the long run when you see increased performance across the board (not just among top performers) and increased morale.

Switch it up. Using competitions strategically can still benefit your organization in many awesome ways. But, instead of having employees compete against their peers, perhaps you could create games and competitions that encourage them to beat their own personal records. This way, each employee will experience increased performance, a boost in their self-esteem, and recognition from you.

Encourage Good Peer Relationships

Good peer relationships include a healthy amount of competition, but mostly involve encouragement, support, and teamwork.

Check out our free white paper that clears up gray areas about peer-to-peer recognition for winning ways to improve productivity, engagement, and camaraderie in your workplace.

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