The acts of individual employees can build up or break down an office space. Disengaged employees can slow productivity while caring and empathetic teams members can help their coworkers push through stressful times. While many leaders want to think of their organizations as well-oiled machines and objective workers, they are in fact dependent on the emotional and mental states of their staffs.
One factor that can determine the success of a team or organization is employee self-esteem. Without it, team members struggle to accomplish even basic tasks and co-workers lash out at each other in fear.
Keep reading to learn about the impact low self-esteem can have on your company and how you can build your team up to create a healthy work environment.
Low Self-Esteem Spreads Toxicity Through an Organization
Low self-esteem does more than just hold individual employees back. It has the power to spread negativity to co-workers, leaders and subordinates alike until everyone in the organization is bathed in toxic thoughts.
“Low confidence makes us doubt our abilities and judgment and prevents us from taking calculated risks, setting ambitious goals and acting on them,” Barrie Davenport, author and personal development coach tells Larry Alton at NBC News.
“At work, people who suffer with this problem often engage in subconscious behaviors that undermine their success, making them less likely to ask for or get promotions, raises, and even jobs.”
For example, the team at Legacy Business Cultures says employees who lack self-esteem often create hostile work environments to overcompensate. They list a few common behaviors of employees with low self-esteem that you might recognize in your employees.
Withholding: failing to provide information, praise or feedback to others in order to maintain an upper hand.
Teasing and Sarcasm: comments might make team members laugh, but could actually sting the people they are about.
Breaking Territorial Boundaries: bugging, following and asking too-personal questions can all tie in to hostile expressions due to low self-esteem.
Reprimanding employees for this behavior can often make the situation worse, as that team member is now afraid of losing their job. This might spawn different behaviors that are worse than the ones before.
Low-Self Esteem Leads to Micromanagement
If you want further proof that promoting insecure employees isn’t a great idea, look at the behavior of micromanagers. These are leaders who can’t step away from their teams and don’t trust them to get their work done.
"[Your boss's] micromanaging probably has more to do with how that person feels about him or herself, not you," Helene Lerner, founder of Women Working, tells Business News Daily. Fear is usually at the root of this controlling behavior.
Women Have Lower Self-Esteem Than Men
Despite advances in the workplace, self-esteem is often a gendered problem. In an article for Refinery29, Lindsey Stanberry shares some alarming statistics about women’s self-esteem in the workplace. When female employees start working, 43 percent aspire to top management roles. Within two years of entering the workforce, that number drops to 16 percent of women who still think they can reach executive positions.
This isn’t to say that men don’t suffer from low self-esteem (they do), but women tend to be harder on themselves or worry more about their qualifications when faced with challenges or opportunities.
Self-Esteem Needs to Be Built From Within
Unfortunately, self-esteem isn’t something that your team members can develop overnight or something that managers can pass on to their employees.
Career coach Ashley Stahl emphasizes that self-esteem has nothing to do with a person’s actual job performance or how a person is perceived by others. It is in fact a “subjective, internal measure that you place on yourself.”
That means that even when offered a promotion at work or more responsibility, an employee won’t have more self-confidence. They will just have the same level of self-worth with a different job title.
People Base Their Self-Esteem On Others
While self-esteem comes from within, many employees try to build their confidence off of the approval of others or by their success over them.
“[People] with absolute confidence don't need to get recognition or feel reassured by other people -- they give it to themselves,” Suzanne Fetting at Absolute Confidence Coaching writes. “How they feel about themselves is more important than how others feel about them.”
It’s so easy to compare yourself to others, especially when someone within your team gets a promotion or is praised for their success. Insecure people tend to take one of two approaches: they might beat themselves down or they might try to tear down their colleagues' accomplishments.
“Feeling intimidated or beaten down by the success of others can affect your productivity and general positivity around the office,” Michael Ruderman, product marketing manager at Facebook, writes. He encourages people to analyze their own accomplishments and understand that they are on their own professional path.
As Self-Esteem Grows, So Does Your Chance Of Success
Low-self esteem comes with multiple behavioral drawbacks for both employees and managers, but it also keeps employees from realizing their true potential.
The team at interviewing software provider RIVS.com highlighted benefits that accompany high self-esteem levels:
Employees can confidently run successful meetings.
They can dictate what kind of work they want to do and how it gets done.
They can confidently ask for pay raises and promotions because they know that they’re doing their best work and making a difference.
Employees with low self-esteem are so afraid of failure that they never think about going above and beyond or taking on extra work. Those with high self-esteem look to make changes and improvements, often doing more than what is asked. Which team member would you rather have on your staff?
“High self-esteem is not created by receiving praise all the time or listening to motivational talks, but it is built in having connections with others and realizing that setbacks are opportunities to grow, allowing us to have more empathy for others who are struggling,” Bobi Seredich, speaker and author of Courage Does Not Always Roar, writes.
She says that self-esteem is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence, as it helps us to form realistic views of ourselves and notice the reactions of others. Without it, employees on any level will have a hard time working with others.
5 Ways to Improve Employee Self-Esteem
As managers start to understand the impact self-esteem has on their companies, they often want to take steps to grow the confidence of employees.
“Be very wary of taking responsibility for others mindset and/or personal choices or feeling you must improve them,” leadership coach Shelley Holmes writes. “This is their life, their journey. The best you can do is to create the conditions that encourage people to be the best possible version of themselves, so they can shine.”
Improving self-esteem isn’t as easy as training employees on a new software tool. You are working with a person’s individual beliefs and views, and may be fighting decades of insecurities that form their world views.
However, you can implement a few policies and try a few tactics to see how your team members respond.
Follow the Three As Method
The first step toward changing employee behavior is to consider your own. Make sure you’re creating an environment for self-esteem to thrive. Success expert and author Brian Tracy recommends managers follow the three As to boost employee self-esteem:
Appreciation: show your team that they are valued and needed for the company to succeed.
Approval: show that you are happy with their work and the methods they take to accomplish their goals.
Attention: show that you care about your team and will give them the time they need to address any concerns or problems.
Withholding any of these actions can affect the self-esteem of your team members. Attention without appreciation is micromanaging, and appreciation without attention feels hollow. All three elements work together to support your staff.
Create Actionable Affirmations
TED speaker and psychologist Guy Winch says affirmations like “I am smart” or “I am confident” tend to be ineffective for people with low self-esteem. The affirmation is so far from the person’s actual belief that it can backfire and make a person feel worse.
Instead, Winch suggests creating aspirational affirmations that are more believable. For example, “I will be successful” replaces “I am successful.” This change of phrase acknowledges that everyone is on a journey and working to improve. It’s also optimistic about the future.
Celebrate Personal Development Victories
Celebrate when team members accomplish the goals they’ve set.
Julia Hogan, psychotherapist and author of It’s OK to Start With You, says her friend does two things when confronting any issue: She “makes an intentional decision to face the situation with confidence. Then, she resolves to tell a friend about it so that her friend can celebrate her success with her.”
This situation itself isn’t important; it can be anything from confronting a coworker to approaching management with a new idea. And while the outcome of a situation may not be tangible, they way it is handled is an important step for building self-esteem, and that makes it worth celebrating.
List Both Strengths and Weaknesses
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, psychologist and executive coach Naphtali Hoff writes. The problem is that self-esteem issues can make the weaknesses list seem overwhelming and the strengths seem limited.
Hoff encourages people to make realistic lists of their strengths and weaknesses. When your team feels low, they can look at their strengths. When your team understands their shortcomings, they can work to improve them and take steps to grow personally and professionally.
Maintain Hands-On Leadership
Improving employee self-esteem isn’t an overnight project. It is something you will have to be involved in throughout the year and in future years moving forward.
“A good leader will interact with each member of staff enough to gauge their self-esteem levels, and then maintain good levels, while working to raise poor self-esteem,” Mark Williams, senior management trainer and consultant, writes. He explains that employees with high self-esteem are more autonomous, creative and loyal to the company. They are also typically more engaged and will use this confidence to make the company better whenever they can.
You cannot control the mental health of everyone in your organization, but you can control the environment that they work in. By setting your team up for success, you can build a staff with high self-esteem, independence and excitement about what they do.