10 Workplace Competitions and Contests to Motivate Your Team

Megan O'Neil
Megan O'Neil

HR and Career Writer

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

Workplace competitions and contests - two employees racing to win

Humans are wired to compete. As a natural byproduct of evolution, competition helps ensure that each individual gains the maximum amount of resources to survive and procreate. And this natural desire to compete and compare ourselves to others is also a prominent feature in workplaces.

However, this natural desire to compete doesn’t have to be a negative feature. And when the power of the competitive spirit is harnessed in the workplace, it can actually lead to some positive benefits.

In this article, we cover what workplace competitions are, why they are important and some ideas for how you can get started with organizing your own workplace competitions.

What are workplace competitions?

Workplace competitions are games, contests or activities that involve co-workers competing against each other to win a prize or recognition. They can be directly related to the job, such as performance competitions, or they can be entirely separate from work, such as sports matches.

Regardless of the type of competition, it is important to always ensure that the competition enhances teamwork, morale and motivation — and doesn’t hinder it. Therefore, when holding workplace competitions, always be sure to keep an eye on how your employees respond.

William Cannon, Founder and CEO of Uplead believes that “if the employees keep their mind positive and maintain their focus on work, competition can be a positive experience.” This is an example of the message that should be sent to employees when it comes to workplace competitions. They should focus on doing their best work and not overthink the performance of others.

The importance of workplace competitions

The main benefit of workplace competitions is that they motivate employees to succeed and push themselves. Devin Schumacher, Founder of digital marketing agency SERP, stated it well, when he wrote that “a competitive environment pushes you out of your comfort zone and can turn the world into your oyster.”

But workplace competitions don’t only have the power to bring out the best in your employees — they can also help foster team morale and camaraderie. When organized properly, workplace competitions are fun, and sharing fun activities with coworkers can promote team building.

Contest ideas

1. Cook-off or bake-off

Since eating is a universal experience, it can be a great tool for bonding in the workplace. In fact, one study even showed that regularly eating with others can improve your health and wellbeing. For this reason, a cook-off or bake-off are enjoyable opportunities for employees to bond over food.

A cook-off or bake-off involves first picking a theme for employees to recreate. Some examples are chili, guacamole or dessert. Participating employees then bring in their homemade dish to enter in the competition. All employees can get the chance to taste the dishes and vote on a winner.

2. Photo contest

A photo contest is a great opportunity for employees to share a more personal side of themselves at work while also promoting bonding. Photo contests are also relatively easy competitions to organize. The first step involves choosing a theme. Some examples of themes are best childhood photo, best pet photo or best vacation photo.

Participants simply submit their photos and allow other employees to vote on a winner. Although this competition isn’t directly related to work, it is a fun activity that encourages some lighthearted workplace competition and team building.

3. Steps challenge

Research shows that healthy employees tend to be more productive. For this reason, companies are investing more and more in employee health and wellbeing programs. And one great way to motivate your team to get fitter is by organizing a steps challenge.

A steps challenge can be done without any extra equipment costs, as most employees can track their steps with their smartphone app or wearable fitness tracker. All you have to do is establish a timeframe for the competition and procure a prize. A steps challenge is a fun competition that has some tangible health benefits.

4. Employee advocacy contest

Encouraging your employees to be advocates for the company on social media is an effective way to increase brand visibility and attract customers. However, it isn’t always easy to get employees to share company-related content on their personal social media feeds. And for this reason, an employee advocacy contest is a great motivator.

The easiest way to run an employee advocacy contest is with the help of a tool, such as Smarp or DSMN8. These tools enable the administrators to track and keep an overview of engagement on company-related content that employees share. However, without a specialized tool, it is still possible to run an employee advocacy contest. You could simply request that employees submit screenshots of their engagement stats; and whoever has the highest engagement is the winner. 

5. Costume contest

Research shows that there are some serious benefits to having fun at work, such as increased employee engagement and higher performance. And what says fun more than dressing up in a costume? For this reason, Halloween costume contests can be a great way to inject some fun into your workplace.

However, when organizing a workplace costume contest, it is important to make employees aware in advance as to which costumes will be permitted. Costumes that are offensive, gruesome, political, religious or sexy are considered a no-go. Therefore, make sure employees are made aware in advance that inappropriate or potentially offensive costumes will not be permitted.

6. Deck out your desk

Another idea for a holiday-themed workplace competition is a deck out your desk contest. A deck out your desk contest is an enjoyable way for employees to get into the holiday spirit through decorating their workspaces.

Although deck out your desk contests are typically Christmas-themed, they can also be secular, which makes them more inclusive for all employees. Employees can be given the option to decorate their desks in any theme they’d like, and then employees can vote on the best decked desk.

7. Performance competition

When done correctly, performance competitions are a great way to ramp up employee motivation. One of the most common types of performance competitions is based on key performance indicators (KPIs). For example, sales teams could award a prize to the employee who overachieved their sales target by the highest amount.

It’s important to make sure to monitor the engagement and camaraderie in your team when holding performance competitions. While some teams may benefit from them, others may suffer. Mike Grossman, the CEO of Goodhire has some good advice for employees participating in performance competitions: “If your colleagues are constantly vying for the top spot and you fear that it’s impacting your mental health, simply let your results do the talking.”

8. Trivia games

Trivia games are game-show style contests that make great workplace competitions. Not only are trivia games often intellectually stimulating and exciting, but they can be great for team building for remote employees as well. There are also various types of trivia game styles so that you can mix it up.

When setting up the trivia game, it’s important to make sure the questions are all appropriate and inclusive. For example, if many of your employees are international, questions about the local culture may not be easy to answer for everyone.

9. Scavenger hunt

Scavenger hunts aren’t only for children’s birthday parties and make for great workplace competitions as well. While scavenger hunts typically take more effort and creativity to organize than other competitions, they can be worth it. Not only are scavenger hunts enjoyable, but they can also help with onboarding and team bonding.

To create the scavenger hunt, you’ll need to decide on a list of items or information that participants will have to obtain. For example, if the scavenger hunt is for onboarding, it may include having new hires visit different departments to gather information. This could also help them learn about the company and meet colleagues.

10. Sports match

A sports match is a classic competition that can help promote physical activity and team bonding in the workplace. However, it’s important to keep in mind that not all types of sports are suitable for the workplace. Since high-contact sports, such as football, could lead to injuries, it’s best to avoid these.

Low-contact and inclusive types of sports, such as table tennis, badminton or softball are perfect for the workplace. And employees that are not interested in competing can cheer on their colleagues from the sidelines.

Final thoughts

Workplace competitions can be a great way to encourage team bonding, motivate employees, encourage healthy competition and increase employee happiness. However, when organizing workplace competitions, it is important to be mindful of how employees respond. If there is low interest or the competition is leading to hostility between employees, then this is a sign that it may not be the right type of competition.

You’ll also want to consider the intended purpose of the competition — whether it is to improve performance, raise money, promote healthy habits, gamify training or improve team bonding. Once you’ve established the purpose, it will be easier to decide what type of competition is most suitable.

Since people have a natural inclination to compete with one another at work, why not harness this drive to achieve positive benefits? Workplace competitions are the perfect way to do just that.

Do you have any competition or contest ideas to add to the mix? Let us know in the comments below!