Nurturing self-esteem: It has impact on how people work

By: Barbara Bowes

Have you ever thought about the importance of self-esteem and self-confidence at work? Do you realize that self-esteem affects everything you do?

Have you ever personally felt a lack of self-esteem? In fact, you may be experiencing a lack of self-esteem without even realizing it. For instance, if you have ever declined to lead a project, the challenge might not have been a lack of time but rather you gave into a personal fear of failure.

Think back to the last time you made up an excuse to avoid trying something new. What held you back? Next, recall the time that you procrastinated for so long that a great career opportunity passed you by. Once again, what held you back?

More than likely, for some reason, you lacked self-confidence or self-esteem. Self-esteem is described as having confidence in your ability to think and cope with the daily challenges of life. It's also related to having confidence in the fact you have the right to success and happiness. Good self-esteem is critical to our psychic well-being.

When you have a high level of self-esteem, you will trust your thinking and your judgment, you will make better decisions and will create a better life for yourself. If you trust your thinking and your judgment, you will create more effective interpersonal and work relationships and can more effectively contribute to the work environment around you.

In other words, a good sense of self-esteem has an impact on how we operate in the workplace, how we deal with people and how much we achieve in our career. Poor self-esteem leads to fear of the new and unfamiliar and it leads to inappropriate behaviour such as defensiveness, or overly compliant or rebellious behaviour.

Positive personal self-esteem also translates into the corporate culture of an organization. Organizations with high levels of self-esteem among their employees will experience several of the following characteristics.

  • Employees demonstrate an ease in communication with each other and appear to enjoy their interaction.
  • People will easily talk of accomplishments and be open and honest with any shortcomings.
  • You will hear compliments and expressions of affection for one another.
  • People are open to criticism and comfortable enough to acknowledge their mistakes.
  • Communication and interaction among employees have an air of spontaneity.
  • There is harmony between what people say and what they do in their actions.
  • Feelings of anxiety or insecurity might be present, but they don't overwhelm people.
  • Employees are flexible and are open to challenges and willingly help each other.

The biggest challenge to inspiring and maintaining high levels of self-esteem among employees is the ability of an organization to create a sense of employee self-responsibility. In other words, employees must feel a sense of personal control over their work and their activities within the work environment. Yet, how does an organization accomplish this feat? The following guidelines may be helpful.

Provide for career management - Employees who understand who they are, what they like to do and what their skills are enjoy a much higher level of personal self-esteem. Provide career management training programs that allow employees to explore and understand themselves and to develop a long-term career plan with your organization.

Implement an effective problem solving methodology - Organizations need to adapt an effective problem-solving methodology and ensure that every employee is taught and uses this strategy. This creates consistency throughout the organization, creates independent thinking and leads to personal responsibility for choices and actions.

Develop self-assertiveness - Every employee must be taught to stand up for himelf or herself and to defend their own ideas while at the same time, learning to implement self-assertiveness effectively and appropriately. This again is a big responsibility and one that requires employees to make good choices, examine alternatives and engage in self-discipline.

Focus on a goal orientation - Focusing on personal control is easily developed if there is a focus on goal setting at all levels of the organization. These goals must be SMART, or in other words, specific, measurable, agreed to, realistic and time based. Goals and realistic expectations allow employees to determine all of the what, where, when and how of their work and to feel a sense of accomplishment when success is achieved.

Practice personal integrity - Everyone, from the front-line employee to senior management, must "walk the talk." In other words, behaviour within the organization must demonstrate a personal integrity among the standards and beliefs and the behaviour. No matter what, employee behaviour and practices cannot conflict with values.

Provide safety and security - While organizations can no longer guarantee lasting employment, they need to provide employees with some sense of safety and security within the work environment. Employees must feel safe to speak their mind, to make mistakes, to ask questions and to challenge ideas. Employees need to know they are respected for their skills and talents and feel secure about their contributions to the workplace. When safety and security is evident, employee self-esteem will be matched.

The need for positive self-esteem in the workplace is growing in importance. We are now a knowledge economy and this puts increased demands on individuals at every level of an organization. We ask employees to engage in self-management, personal responsibility and a high level of personal self-awareness. We ask employees to be effective at interpersonal relationships and to work in flexible teams. In addition, our employees have greater decision-making and more complex thinking requirements than ever before. No longer are employees expected to simply do what they are told. Instead, employees must use ingenuity to meet the challenges of our global and competitive world.

Today's organizations and those of the future operate on thinking power, the intelligence and ingenuity of employees who can turn ideas into new discoveries, new products or new services. To nurture this creativity and innovation, organizations must also ensure they nurture employee self-esteem.

Source: Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, Nathaniel Branden, Bantam Books, 1994.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group and is author of the Easy Resume Book: A Transferable Skills Approach. She can be reached at