We all do it. People spend time on social media comparing their lives to others’. At work, employees often spend time thinking about how their performance stacks up compared to their peers. But, is it good for you to compare yourself to others? Social comparisons are almost inevitable. But, they have implications for your feelings, attitudes, and behaviors, in and outside of work. Want to know if comparing yourself to others is helping or harming you? Read more below.
Who you’re comparing yourself to matters
When it comes to comparisons, there are two types. First, there are comparisons with people you think you are better than. This could be on any dimension – work performance, family life, appearance, etc. Really, anything that matters to you can provide a point of comparison. Second, there are comparisons with people who you feel are better than you. Again, this can be on any dimension. Importantly, there is a difference in terms of how these comparisons make you feel. Comparing yourself only to those you think are better off than you are makes your wellbeing suffer.
How does this general principle translate to work? Are you mostly comparing your performance to those you feel superior to? If so, your job satisfaction and emotional commitment to your company go up. So, you actually feel better at work if you make these kinds of comparisons. What if you are mostly comparing yourself to those you feel inferior to? If that’s the case, your job satisfaction and emotional commitment to your company decrease. You’re also more likely to look for another job if you are only comparing yourself with those you feel inferior to. You shouldn’t only pay attention to how you are “less than” others. Paying attention to how you are “more than” is key!
Comparing Yourself to Others Depends on Your Nature
There are some people who are more prone to comparing themselves to others in general. How do you know if you’re one of those people? There is a way to measure the likelihood that you compare yourself with others more frequently. Are you likely to decide if you’re doing a good job based on whether you’re doing it better than others? If so, you likely score higher on this trait. For example, imagine your job is to complete 12 widgets a day and you complete your 12. But, someone else completes 14. How do you feel? If you would feel bad about yourself, you’re using others’ performance as a benchmark. Someone lower on social comparison would just pay attention to whether or not they performed well in general.
Similarly, if you try to solve problems by asking others what they would do, you might also be higher on this trait. This is only true, though, if you’re asking because you want to find out what other people would find acceptable. It isn’t as true if you’re just trying to gain information about something you don’t know a lot about. In other words, if you’re concerned with how others view you and your choices, you probably make more social comparisons.
If that’s the case, try to slow yourself down and ask why you care about how you compare to others. There may be legitimate reasons to make comparisons, but if you’re doing it automatically, you may suffer unnecessarily from your own need to compare. So, the second takeaway is to try to understand your nature and actively work to override your need to make negative comparisons.
Work and Personal Factors Can Drive Comparisons
When it comes to comparing yourself to others, certain circumstances can make you more or less likely to compare. For example, if you see yourself as having more freedom, being in charge, or being a high achiever, you are more likely to make positive comparisons at work. This means that finding ways to enhance your flexibility and reminding yourself of your achievements may help in driving fewer comparisons with people who make you feel “less than”. Also, your work situation can contribute to whether or not you make these comparisons. If you find yourself in a more ambiguous work role, you’re more likely to feel unsure of yourself and to use others’ performance as a guide.
The same study about ambiguity showed that, if you feel more negatively about yourself to begin with, you will also make more negative comparisons. Specifically, if you feel you can’t tackle new challenges well, you aren’t worthy, or you aren’t in control of your life, you will be more likely to pay attention to those you see as “better than”. We have talked about the importance of feeling positively about yourself in these ways before. In other words, if you don’t feel good about yourself, your comparisons will be focused on the ways you’re not enough. Overall, it’s important to be aware of how your feelings about yourself might slant the info you pay attention to (how you are faring worse than others) and the info you ignore (how you might be faring better than others).
So, in conclusion, we all make comparisons. But, some people make them more than others. Who you are, how you feel about yourself, and your job role may all influence the comparisons you make. Are you ignoring how you’re doing well? Are you only paying attention to how you’re not enough, instead of how you’re doing well? If so, you might want to actively think about your positive characteristics and what others might value in you. Chances are, someone is comparing themselves to you and feeling “less than” you, as well.
It’s also important to remember that everyone has strengths and weaknesses – including you! Someone who you feel inferior to at work may not have the same skills that you do in other domains, or vice versa. Similarly, a person you feel inferior to on social media, may not be killing it at work. Either way, we are all complex! Allowing yourself to remember that ways in which you are “enough”, as well as the ways in which you could strive for more, will help you to be happier and healthier.
How have you worked on making sure you’re not falling prey to making negative social comparisons? Are you working on comparing yourself to others less? Share your tips below, so others can benefit from your strategies!