It is human nature to compare ourselves with other people — whether acquaintances on social media, our colleagues at work, or the people we went to school with. While social comparisons can be beneficial or harmful, depending on the circumstances, comparing yourself with others at work can be a deterrent to your performance, creativity, and mental health.
Keep reading to learn more about why such comparisons are inherently unhealthy and how you can incorporate healthier strategies to remain driven and motivated at work.
Why are comparisons at work unhealthy?
Comparisons are a way for humans to mentally benchmark themselves against others. At the workplace, such comparisons come to the fore during head-to-head competitions between individuals or teams.
Research suggests that while competition at work can sometimes help, it only helps certain people — usually those belonging to socially advantaged or privileged groups. For instance, Markus Baer, a researcher at Washington University, noted that while men may thrive in competitive scenarios, women’s creativity may weaken (with some exceptions) as the intensity of competition increases. Therefore, competition at work may worsen inequalities among workers, making it detrimental to a workplace that celebrates and/or promotes diversity.
Further, competition can also lead to unnecessary conflict. In an article for People Results, Betsy Winkler mentions the pitfalls of turning every activity at work into a competition. Differentiating between ‘competition’ and ‘productive competition’, she states how the former drives teammates against each other, brings down productivity, and results in a poor work culture.
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What can you do instead?
Instead of resorting to comparing yourself with others at work, here are five actionable strategies you can follow to stay driven and self-motivated:
Rely on transparent communication
Honest, open, and transparent communication is key to preserving your mental health. If you feel like a senior is creating issues by comparing you and your colleagues, the best way to deal with it is to directly address it. You can have a one-on-one conversation with the person concerned to let them know comparison is not the best motivator for you. Be respectful and try to convey that you would prefer if they approached the subject differently.
Focus on small, achievable goals
Often, you might lose sight of the big picture when faced with large, vague deadlines at work. It might feel overwhelming and your mind can get too boggled with the details of a project. In such situations, breaking the project or deadline into small, measurable, and achievable goals can benefit. You have a submission a month away? No worries; break it down into four or five milestones and set weekly goals for yourself. This way, you are only dealing with one thing and not the entire project at once and hence, are more likely to stay motivated.
Celebrate your teammates’ victories
An ideal workplace is where instead of comparing yourself with others, you celebrate your teammate’s wins - both big and small! This helps foster team spirit and boosts morale. More importantly, it makes your colleagues feel appreciated, setting a healthy, positive precedent about how all of you can motivate each other as a team.
Building a strong rapport with your teammates can also help you collectively practice what Kristi Hedges terms as “cooperative competition”, through which you can find a mode of working that encourages each of you to work in tandem with the others. This results in team members pushing each other to be more productive and producing better results at work.
Invest in developing new skills
Negative self-comparison can sneak in when you feel inadequate about your capabilities. One of the easiest ways to tackle this insecurity is to regularly upskill. Thanks to the internet, you can easily access hundreds of courses, resources, and other helpful material, no matter what your field of work is! Utilise those to develop new skills and your work will soon reflect your progress. You can also ask your supervisor to conduct relevant workshops, seminars, etc. at work for skill development.
Do not shy away from seeking help
Finally, do not hesitate to seek help! If you have had a rough day and want to vent, reach out to a trusted friend or family member, and make sure they are in the right mindspace to listen to your concerns before ranting. However, if a toxic workplace is causing you persistent stress and anxiety, it might be a good idea to seek counseling. Therapy can help you develop healthy coping strategies, eliminate negative self-talk, and establish better boundaries at work.