Balancing act: Are real competitors in London or in the cubicle next to yours?
I don't know what it's like around your house these days, but Olympic fever has taken hold at the Kratz home.
My wife was alternatively brought to hearty laughter and near tears by the opening ceremonies, due in part to the fact that we lived in Britain for a year while I was working on my master's degree two decades ago. (I must admit, watching the queen jump out of a helicopter with James Bond was classic.)
We also find ourselves watching and caring about sports that only cross our minds every four years, like synchronized diving, 10-meter air rifle and badminton.
Not that this is a bad thing. I love the spectacle and competition that define the Olympics.
However, while it's great to watch the strivings of world-class athletes, it's sometimes annoying to witness similar competition in the workplace. And it seems like such contests in the land of cubicles are getting tougher all of the time.
According to a new survey developed by OfficeTeam, a national staffing service, almost half of managers interviewed said employees were more competitive with each other now than they were in the past.
The survey was conducted by an independent research firm, which completed telephone interviews with more than 1,000 senior managers at U.S. companies with 20 or more employees. Those managers were asked, "In your opinion, are employees more or less competitive with their coworkers than they were 10 years ago?"
In response, 8 percent said workers today are significantly more competitive, and 41 percent said they are somewhat more competitive than they were a decade ago. Another 48 percent said the level of competitiveness has not changed in the last 10 years.
"A little friendly competition in the office is healthy if it inspires great individual and team performance," said Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, in a press release about the survey. "Rivalry between coworkers can often become more intense when the economy is uncertain and people feel pressure to prove themselves. Although it's natural for employees to want to stand out among their colleagues, it shouldn't be at the expense of others."
That's the key, really. When the need to compete overtakes the need to cooperate, you run the risk of building an office full of brown-nosers and saboteurs. In that kind of environment, no one really gets the gold.
To further prove that point, OfficeTeam offered a clever list of five workplace competitors who take it too far, including:
— The Pole Vaulter. "This person jumps to nab all of the high-profile assignments, leaving the less visible work to everyone else," the OfficeTeam release said. "To get the plum projects, proactively make your interests known. Volunteer for key assignments and acquire hard-to-find skills that make you indispensable."
— The Boxer. This person is always jabbing at coworkers with snide remarks and sarcasm. OfficeTeam suggests staying positive and professional when working with a "boxer." "If the behavior doesn't stop, alert your manager or human resources department to the situation."
— The Sprinter. "This person tries to curry favor by working quickly — even if the results are sloppy," the OfficeTeam release said. "Don't cut corners to compete with this individual. Instead, become known for delivering quality work."
— The Gymnast. Just as Olympic gymnasts bend and twist their bodies while completing routines, the office gymnast bends and twists facts, often taking credit for others' work. "When collaborating with this colleague, be sure to share your original ideas and contributions with your manager," OfficeTeam recommends. "Document the designation of duties and other critical conversations to avoid finger-pointing down the line."
— The Marathoner. This is the person at the office who seems to have unlimited time and energy when it comes to sharing rumors around the water cooler. The OfficeTeam release recommends that you avoid office gossips and don't share sensitive information with them.
I think I've run across examples of most of these office competitors at various times during my career. I've especially disliked run-ins with The Pole Vaulter and The Gymnast. I have no patience for glory hounds and credit thieves.
Have you worked with such people? How have you dealt with their unique brands of competition? Are there others you would add to the list?
Let me know, and I'll share some of your ideas in a future column.
In the meantime, I hope you have plenty of opportunities during the next couple of weeks to watch real competitors show their talents on the world's biggest stage. I suspect we'll all be able to converse intelligently about the gymnastics scoring system and the rules of team handball by the time the Games reach their end. And then we'll promptly forget everything we learned for another four years.
You've got to love the Olympics!
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