Workplace competition – how to get the balance right

There’s nothing like a healthy dose of competition to motivate employees and boost performance. But when competition becomes too intense, employees’ morale, stress levels, sense of cohesion and work outcomes may suffer. How can companies get the balance right?


A recent article on explores the issue. It considers cutthroat cultures that measure employees against each other and collaborative cultures that prioritise cooperation and consensus-building. It explores different combinations and shades of these approaches, delivering valuable insights on how to motivate employees through the competition without turning the office culture toxic. Here is a summary of the highlights of the article:


  1. Competition affects team members differently. It can spur innovation, creativity and productivity. Some people perform better, feeling motivated and inspired when they feel challenged. Others may feel threatened, which can result in them becoming disengaged in a competitive environment.
  2. Using leaderboards and competition as your only means of employee motivation can result in a toxic work environment, low employee morale, decreased productivity and high staff turnover. Depending on personality, sometimes the best motivation methods will avoid comparing individual performances, focusing instead on the team average or an internal goal.
  3. Research shows that people are more motivated by intrinsic factors – e.g., the desire to succeed in a specific task or in general, and the need for a sense of fulfilment – than extrinsic ones – including competition and cash rewards. The latter factors don’t result in lasting change while the former ones have been proven to drive performance for the long haul.
  4. Competition – and indeed any conversation relating to performance measurement – requires trust. Companies should therefore favour a spirit of collaboration and joint problem-solving and only target appropriate goals.
  5. Fair competition is essential so the playing field needs to be level. People compete best against others like them as they have a more realistic chance of winning but it’s not a foregone conclusion. So don’t pit your top performers against low performers or new recruits.
  6. Competing against yourself can be effective. Setting personal achievement goals or comparing your performance to the average performance of someone at your level can be motivating. Use a carrot rather than a stick approach to avoid creating anxiety around achieving the target.


Do you agree with the above points? Does the article miss any key points on the topic? Please get in touch to share your views. ABL Recruitment – your trusted, expert recruitment partner – will as always, be happy to hear from you!