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Workplace and Home Base: How Healthy Is Competition?

By Martha Michael

Cost of Competition

It’s human nature to compete -- for trophies, grades, money, attention, and space, among other things. Most people agree that without some healthy competition nothing would get done, but there’s a point when a wolf-like mentality is too extreme. Letting an alpha member lead the way is one thing but operating under the pressure of constant competition can have negative effects on your health. It breaks down the herd, destroying the positive qualities of cooperation.

In the Workplace

How C-suite executives incorporate competition into the company culture has a significant effect on their employees, and it cuts both ways. An article on the Vantage Circle website says there are benefits to fostering competition in the workplace.

It’s a source of motivation whether employees work for bonuses, approval from superiors, or recognition by others. Competition inspires greater performance while also boosting the energy in an office or other style of workplace.

There are also negative side effects, particularly if there are oversized egos engaging in an extremely competitive atmosphere. A toxic level of constant competition can breed bitterness and hostility between staff members.

However, there are effective ways to make the competition friendlier.

Team-building activities - Many employees remember a time during a company retreat when they had the chance to work together with their colleagues to meet a challenge. When groups join forces to tackle game strategies, they form bonds while seeking common goals and get a pleasurable byproduct -- fun.

Non-monetary awards - Employment, by definition, means working for a paycheck, so competition is a built-in feature of the workplace. But after the hiring phase and pay negotiations, you can still offer rewards that incentivize momentum and inspire greater effort. There’s more room for conflict when money is involved but workers are more likely to share the happiness of a colleague if they’ve earned a vacation or another non-monetary reward.

Inclusion through diversity - The need to hire members of a wide range of backgrounds is a concept embraced by executives from companies of all sizes. In addition to the societal benefits from providing equal opportunities for all, by leading the way in eliminating stereotypes and elevating employees from all backgrounds you create a company culture that seeks to be more open-minded and friendly.

Recognition of peers - Attend a networking group and you typically find a mutual admiration society because there’s something motivating about peer-to-peer recognition. Because of a natural desire to be accepted by others in the herd, people respond very well when leadership sets the tone with public appreciation. Business owners can even purchase software that enables employees to applaud each other on a regular basis.

Group brainstorming - Coming together for a common cause is an effective way to breed cohesiveness. Everyone wins when ideas are generated that benefit the company, and most employees see there’s something to gain by opening themselves to inspiration from colleagues. It breaks down walls of hierarchy when everyone’s given a seat at the table.

On the Home Front

At work you’re forced to deal with competition, but every family has a culture of its own when it comes to supporting one another. An article by Psychology Today says it’s healthy to minimize competitiveness because cooperation is what defines a family, making it more than just a group of individuals.

When members of a household champion one another they strengthen bonds, protect the family unit, and derive more pleasure from the others. When there’s a competitive atmosphere at home, members are pitted against one another for resources, such as attention or the best bedroom, which can cause feelings of isolation and the collapse of the structure.

There are steps that parents and guardians can take to encourage a more cooperative atmosphere within the family:

Diminish sibling rivalry - When kids have to vie for privileges it doesn’t engender much affection for each other.

Refrain from preferential treatment - Heaping attention and gifts on one family member while denying others will increase feelings of jealousy.

Don’t be judgmental - Choosing to honor family members for their endeavors conveys cooperation, while judging their achievements causes them to compete for approval.

Foster feelings of abundance - By providing ample amounts of food, support, and communication, family members tend to feel there are enough resources for everyone.

Competition and Your Health

To the degree that it boosts productivity, a competitive environment is useful and healthy for society.

However, the amount of competition faced by individuals today has increased and the pressure associated with highly competitive environments have negative effects on your mental health, according to an article by Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic. It promotes comparison and can tempt participants to engage in sabotage instead of healthy levels of motivation. When you compare yourself to others you set yourself up for feelings of incompetence and inadequacy.

Negative emotions prompted by a highly competitive atmosphere include:

  • Jealousy
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Obsession

When children are pressured by parents and teachers to perform, they can develop abnormal levels of anxiety and stress which sometimes breeds depression. When expectations are unrealistic it can make kids feel inferior and generalize their performance to reflect their worth as a person.

An effective tool when you notice you’re developing negative side effects from extreme competitiveness is to reverse the shift in focus from the success of others to concentrate on your own achievements. You can also change your circumstances. If your workplace and household each have a balanced environment, yet you have trouble letting go of stress and feelings of isolation, seek professional help.

No one can escape competition in life. Parents have a finite amount of time and attention, and your boss expects some level of productivity or you won’t keep your job. Regardless of your position, there are benefits to maintaining a cooperative spirit when working toward common goals. It’s human nature to pursue an effective form of teamwork and it’s also the signature style of a successful wolf pack.

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