The title of this article is slightly provocative and slightly nonsensical at the same time.
Nonsensical because we carry our self-esteem with us wherever we go. Provocative because I want to provoke you into considering whether you are using your work to meet your self-esteem needs or not.
Before we go any further, let’s deal with what self-esteem is. Self-esteem is the image we have of ourselves. It is how highly we value ourselves. It is the overall personal evaluation of self worth. It strikes to the very core our existence in today’s world and most of us do not pay enough attention to it.
Actually, that last statement is incorrect. I observe many, many people paying too much attention to their self-esteem but in the wrong way. They seek to boost it in the many different ways we, as humans, have developed to get our own short-lived positive strokes.
The necessity to meet our self-esteem needs was highlighted by Abraham Maslow in the 1940s as he developed his hierarchy of needs. We all have emotional needs, fundamental to this which are commonly expressed as the needs for respect, validation, appreciation, love, etc. The list is endless.
In my experience we have an expectation that the world is there to meet these needs for us and too often get let down. Those of us with unhealthy levels of self-esteem tend to develop our own coping mechanisms. These broadly come under the following headings at work:
Bullying – I feel really low. To make myself feel better I am going to try and make you feel worse than I do. This is played out in every workplace and playground all over the world.
Anger – I am scared, I may get hurt so I will get angry in order to hide my fear. I am scared because I don’t think you respect me.
Serious attention seeking – the office “mood hoover” who walks in, sucks up all your energy each morning. The person you dare not ask “how are you?” because they may tell you. This one is continually fishing for attention and positive strokes.
Working too hard – are you the one that gets in earlier and leaves later than anyone else and who still takes work home with you? Do you still complain that no one appreciates your commitment and understands how hard you work? You may know someone like this and may have wondered what the gap in their life is that makes them work so hard.
The thing these behaviours all have in common is that we act these out in an attempt to stimulate the world into meeting our needs for such things as respect, love, validation, to be listened to etc. What you may also know is that self-esteem that is boosted through cheap positive strokes does not last long. In fact it becomes a beast that needs feeding more and more often. Before long the bullying is more intense, the work rate goes up, the attention-seeking increases and the anger becomes unbearable.
So what’s the alternative? Why may your employer like to hire employees with healthy self-esteem?
Employees with healthy self-esteem take less time off work ill, have a healthy work-life balance because they know and believe they deserve it, and are more productive and focused when they are at work. Healthy self-esteem enables me to deal with change and uncertainty.
So how do we deal with unhealthy self-esteem? This is an industry in its own right. There are more personal development courses out there that claim to improve your self-esteem than almost anything else. They can involve everything from paying someone to tell you that you are wonderful to reclaiming your primeval instincts and howling like a wolf (yes, there is, believe me). There aren’t many that put the simple proposition to you that, as an adult, you are responsible for maintaining your self-esteem. To put it another way, it is no one else’s responsibility to maintain your self-esteem.
Here is a list of ways in which we can all pay attention to and build or maintain our self-esteem:
• Be honest about your own strengths
• Learn to take a positive view of your limitations. They are a gift.
• Positive self affirmation
• Work with a personal coach to uncover negative core beliefs
• Take honest feedback from others.
• Take compliments for what they are.
• Confront your fears about yourself. They are so often unfounded.
How much we value ourselves affects every area of our life from the way we treat others (adults and children) to how much risk we take and how we deal with life’s painful lessons (that’s ‘life’s gifts’ in South Coast USA therapy speak). It is never too late to grow ourselves into healthy, mature balanced adults.
Julian Hall delivers behaviour changing and life changing workplace solutions that reduce reduced stress, tension and absence. For more details visit www.beatingangerderby.co.uk or www.StressExperts.co.uk