Are You Competing Against Your Co-Workers?
By Tag Goulet
With all the media coverage of the Olympics this summer, have you been feeling a bit more competitive than usual? Even if you don’t have the moves or swiftness of Michael Phelps, you may still be eager to show what you’ve got and beat the Speedos off the competition.
But instead of battling it out in Rio, you are competing on an entirely different playing field — in your workplace and against your co-workers. If you go for the gold at work, you will have lots of competition. “In an uncertain economy, people grow more concerned about job security and proving their worth to employers,” said Dave Willmer, executive director of OfficeTeam. “This pressure to perform may result in rivalries between employees.”
In fact, workers have become more competitive over the last decade according to a recent survey by OfficeTeam. Almost one-third (31%) of senior managers interviewed said they believe employees are more competitive with each other today than they were 10 years ago.
An astounding 66% of employees surveyed felt that their workplace is competitive. But even trained athletes can only take so much pressure. The survey revealed that 43% of employees would “walk off the field” and leave their workplace if it was too competitive.
Competing Against Your Co-Workers: The Female Perspective
The sometimes aggressive nature of the workplace can be especially surprising to female workers who, unlike their male counterparts, are less likely to get experience competing while growing up. In her book Talking from 9 to 5, Women and Men in the Workplace, Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., presents research about how boys learn to be competitive from a young age. Groups of boys at play “tend to be obviously hierarchical,” says Tannen. “Someone is one-up and someone is one-down.”
By comparison, girls at play tend to cooperate rather than compete. Those who try to take charge are typically accused of being “bossy” and face rejection from the others. As a result, many girls grow up without learning how to effectively compete for what they want.
“Even healthy competition for women is still largely taboo,” writes Susan Shapiro Barash in her book Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry, “It’s very difficult for most of us to admit that we want to win, to snag the promotion at the expense of our coworkers, to rise to the top of our profession.”
“Fantasies about the workplace as a happy bastion of sisterhood are just that: fantasies,” says Nan Mooney, author of I Can’t Believe She Did That! Why Women Betray Other Women at Work. According to Mooney, real-life workplaces feature “a cutthroat corporate culture in which colleagues, male and female, are pitted against each other for jobs and promotions.”
However, Barash argues that most women compete only with their female co-workers:
In these EEOC-managed times, companies aren’t supposed to have jobs that are specifically slotted for women. Yet often ‘everyone knows’ about the informal quota system in which women are allowed only a handful of partnerships, a token number of executive positions, or a few specially reserved faculty positions. Thus, women who compete with each other may be responding to the ways that companies and institutions often put the two genders on different tracks. Sadly, this intragender competition cuts us off from the very coworkers who should be our natural allies.
She argues that women in the workplace shouldn’t be fighting over a piece of the pie; instead, they should be “working together for ‘more pie’.”
However, male workers who want to succeed on the job often feel they are competing against both male and female co-workers. And while “a bit of healthy competition among staff can increase motivation and productivity,” Willmer says “too much competition creates tension and stands in the way of collaboration.”
Strategies for Competing Against Your Co-Workers
OfficeTeam has identified five common “workplace competitors” along with strategies that bosses can use to discourage them from taking the rivalry too far. Get into fighting shape when you train yourself to spot these most competitive types of co-workers.
This employee races to the finish on projects, sometimes overlooking the details. Managers should commend them on their long-term view and enthusiasm, but encourage them to avoid cutting corners in the process.
This employee views their achievements in terms of quantity rather than quality, often taking on more projects than they can reasonably accomplish satisfactorily and on time. Supervisors can offer to redistribute some of their work among others and encourage them to focus on doing a first-rate job rather than attempting to do too much at once.
This person aims for perfection and tends to want to complete projects on their own. While their bends and flips may be impressive, managers may have to diplomatically counsel them to channel their talents more toward team goals rather than spending their time on solo routines.
The Pole Vaulter
No challenge is too great for this employee, who lobbies to take on the highest-profile projects. While this can-do spirit is helpful, its important to not let this worker monopolize all of the most challenging assignments.
This athlete is present in every sport. They are the runner who trips others near the finish line, the soccer player who always gets the yellow card, or the basketball player who is ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct. Their struggle to get ahead at the expense of others ends up damaging the whole team’s chances. Managers should explain the value of playing by the rules and focusing their energy on collaborating with colleagues.
We hope you and your team are winners at work. Step up your game by learning valuable new business skills with online certificate courses for administrative professionals from the International Business and Management Career College (IBMCC). Each IBMCC business certificate course can be completed in only 3 hours online at times convenient for you. Choose from business etiquette, business decorating, business events management, and more. Visit www.ibmcc.com to learn more.