Piling Canada

Driving Engagement Through Competition

There's nothing like a friendly contest to elevate employee commitment and boost productivity
Written by Lisa Gordon
November 2020

There’s nothing like a friendly contest to elevate employee commitment and boost productivity

Despite working remotely since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees say competition is ratcheting up among workplace teams.

According to an August report released by global staffing firm Robert Half, more than one-quarter of U.S. office workers surveyed feel the work environment has become increasingly competitive compared to last year. Younger workers aged 18 to 40 were more likely to report rising competitiveness, as did more men than women.

The situation is similar in Canada, according to Mike Shekhtman, regional vice president at Robert Half Canada. Only six per cent of professionals surveyed here said workplace competition has declined, while 94 per cent believe it has either stayed the same or increased.

“We are seeing that competition is quite common,” Shekhtman told Piling Canada during a recent interview. “Through the pandemic and the recovery period, organizations have had to make infrastructure decisions. As those shifts have occurred, competition has increased.”

The key, he says, is knowing how to capitalize on those competitive feelings to improve employee engagement and increase productivity. For example, during a time when many employees continue to work remotely, positive competition can be fostered through virtual contests or challenges that encourage participation and provide a barometer for buy-in.

“I think a competition like that connects people together,” said Shekhtman. “When you don’t have that common goal, people tend to work in silos, especially from remote offices.”

Recently, Robert Half conducted an online well-being challenge in which employees were divided into teams and encouraged to log their physical exercise in exchange for points.

“It was a great opportunity to virtually connect with team members and drive employee engagement, and the response was really positive – it encouraged different departments and people from all over North America to interact with each other,” said Shekhtman.

Groups that pull together, engage together, making teamwork a critical contributor to workplace efficiency.

According to Ofir Paldi, founder and CEO of Shamaym, a provider of collaborative real-time learning solutions, nowhere is the importance of teamwork more evident than in military pilot training. His company enables high performance through military teaching concepts based on identifying, recording and sharing key day-to-day learnings.

“You start with 100 pilots (in training) and everyone knows you have 10 or 20 spots at the end,” said Paldi, who served nine years as a pilot with the Israeli Air Force. “You know you are in competition all the time, but the way to structure it is as a team, where everyone wants to help each other – even though in the end, that could be against them. I think that’s an amazing example for building a healthy, competitive work environment.”

While teams are the backbone of today’s business landscape and it is possible to encourage friendly competition in virtual work environments, it’s also critical to foster this concept with essential service workers who continue to report to the workplace. For the construction industry, strategies that drive employee engagement could be especially critical.

A PlanRadar article published in October 2019 says efficiency in global construction has dropped below 1993 levels. “No less than 98 per cent of all megaprojects slip by over 30 per cent, more than 75 per cent of the big projects suffer cost overruns by even 40 per cent and more,” reported the web-based construction software provider. “Whereas efficiency in manufacturing has almost doubled from 1995 to 2012, construction productivity decreased by around five per cent.”

Employees who are engaged also tend to be efficient and they are more likely to be high performers in deadline-driven environments.

Shekhtman says the goal is to tie competition to deadlines in a healthy way.

“Having something with clear guidelines that also ties into a deadline will enable you to create a great deal of friendly competition to complete a project on time,” he said. “Site crews know they have to work together as a unit, and this will further drive them toward a common goal. I think it’s a win-win because you get a project completed on time and team members are pushing themselves – and each other – to do an excellent job.”

At Shamaym, the focus is on creating high performance in a “lack of time” environment.

“Today, the work environment is built from teams, and how you can improve the team and get results,” said Paldi. “From the other end, we believe much is based on the individual and each of us has their own role on the team. When managers can create this sense of team and understand that when one employee succeeds it influences the rest of the members and spurs them on … it creates the right work concept.”

While fostering healthy competition in any workplace is a “top down, bottom up” process, Paldi says manager participation is crucial.

“When you fall short of your goals, what do you get from your manager? I think that if they react negatively, that can create a bad culture and bad competition in the team. Instead, the manager should ask, ‘What can you improve for next time?’ Then, everyone wants to improve and contribute.”

He says, though, that too much competition in the workplace can backfire.

“If there is no competition at all, employees probably won’t be high achievers. But if you do it too much, you can break the team. There is a line and if you cross it, it can go from very healthy to a very bad competition environment and then the stress immediately comes.”

Shekhtman agrees that competition in the workplace can turn ugly if it’s not managed properly.

“It’s always important to keep competitive levels in check,” he said. “Workplace rivalries can be very detrimental to the organization. When you put your personal agenda ahead of the team’s, that gets in the way of progress. It can result in turf wars and management by intimidation; that drives low morale and low productivity. It’s really critical for leaders to set expectations and boundaries, and avoid creating an environment where people feel pressure to perform at the expense of others.”

A key thing to remember about fostering workplace competition is to aim for balance and tie the initiative into the company’s purpose and DNA. According to Shekhtman, that should be the moral compass guiding any competition.

“For us at Robert Half, our goal is to deliver exceptional service to our candidates and clients. But any competition we have internally still ties to that – that’s how we ensure it remains healthy.”

He reiterated that competition drives employee engagement and that in turn drives retention. Even at a time when unemployment is high, managers are still concerned about retaining key staff.

“A survey we recently did showed that 82 per cent of senior managers across Canada are concerned about retaining their top talent. Managers and employers need to be very creative moving forward, putting things together that are outside the box, to build synergies to recognize and retain their people. That is a big concern for in-demand positions and critical roles, such as construction, which is an essential service.

“The reality is that it’s still tough to find quality people.”  🍁

Category: Education

About Us

Piling Canada is the premier national voice for the Canadian deep foundation construction industry. Each issue is dedicated to providing readers with current and informative editorial, including project updates, company profiles, technological advancements, safety news, environmental information, HR advice, pertinent legal issues and more.

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