We all have a need to belong, at work and in life. Whether or not you believe you are accepted and valued by others matters. But, we sometimes forget how important we are to making sure that others feel valued too. Read below for some tips on how to maintain your and others’ self-esteem at work.
Classic Self-Esteem Theory
When it comes to psychological theory, sometimes old school ideas have sticking power. For self-esteem theory, this is definitely true. One of the most popular theories is sociometer theory. Sociometer theory, primarily championed by Mark Leary (Duke University), is the idea that we are all reactive to social situations that signal either exclusion or inclusion. When we feel valued by others, our self-esteem goes up. When we feel devalued by others, it goes down.
You can become higher on self-esteem as a trait the more you experience inclusion. You become lower on it the more you experience exclusion. In other words, you generally approach new problems or situations with high or low self-esteem, depending on how you have been accepted by others in the past. People most strongly monitor how people judge their social skills, competence, ability (physical and intellectual), and physical appearance. The basic idea overall is that we all have a constantly adjusting meter of how accepted or unaccepted we feel, which makes our self-esteem higher or lower.
Self-Esteem Boosting Actions
The data in this area shows that there are particular actions which help to increase or decrease self-esteem. For example, if you get invited to join a project team by coworkers, your self-esteem goes up. Further, getting positive feedback in real time has also been shown to boost it. Additionally, being listened to by a new acquaintance drives self-esteem. Overall, it is heightened when you show that you want someone on your team and that you think they are doing a good job. You can also build esteem early on in relationships by taking time to listen to others.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that exclusion has a bigger impact on lowering self-esteem than inclusion has on raising it. So, not only is it key to make sure that you’re making others feel included, you should also be careful not to exclude others. This sounds easier than it is, especially when you’re busy. So, how can you make sure that you are being inclusive and not exclusive toward others?
Tips for Creating Self-Esteem Boosting Environments
First, even when things get tough, it’s important to show encouragement to others. Try to make it a point to provide positive feedback to 3 colleagues a day. You can even set an alarm on your phone for 10am, 1pm, and 4pm. When the alarm goes off, find a colleague who has done a good job and let them know! It’s also important to ask yourself some preventative questions when you are having meetings or creating project teams. For example, who is missing from the room? Who’s opinion haven’t you heard? Are there people who would enjoy weighing in? By thinking strategically about who is missing from the conversation, you can make it more likely that you won’t be leaving anyone important out.
Second, in the onboarding process, take some time to get to know each employee as an individual. Set aside time just for folks to get to know each other – and prioritize it. Truly listening to new employees might provide an opportunity to boost their self-esteem. Even if you don’t have control over the onboarding process, you can always invite a new colleague to coffee or lunch to learn more about them.
Finally, avoid saying or doing exclusionary things to others at work. Even paying attention to your body language by not turning your back on certain group members, or by asking more questions of others than you expect them to ask of you, can help. The good news is that by raising the self-esteem of others, you may also become more valued at work. In other words, you can raise your own self-esteem in the process! It’s a win-win for everyone.
Do you remember experiences that made your self-esteem rise at work? Do you have tips for increasing it for others at work? We’d love to hear your stories below! We have talked about the importance of others at work before and we would love to hear you extend that conversation as well!