How Does Work-Contingent Self-Esteem Impact Wellness?

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Self-esteem is all about how highly you value your own importance. We’ve talked about it before in terms of boosting your and others’ self-esteem. Today, we want to talk about how your work can impact your self-esteem (work-contingent self-esteem) and how that relates to your overall well-being!

Work-Contingent Self-Esteem

Research shows that employees’ self-esteem can impact both performance and well-being. However, it’s not only the amount of self-esteem a person has that matters. People also have specific beliefs about what they must be or do to have worth. This is called contingent self-esteem. In other words, self-esteem is contingent on a person being or doing specific things.

One type of contingent self-esteem is work-contingent self-esteem. People who have work-contingent self-esteem (WCSE) find some of their worth or value in their work performance. In other words, employees with WCSE will feel great about themselves if they are doing well at work. If they aren’t doing well, their self-esteem will see a significant hit and they will believe they have less importance or value. On the other hand, employees without WCSE will see no difference in their self-esteem regardless of how they are performing at work.

Make sense? If you tie your value to something about yourself and that part of you isn’t doing so well, your self-esteem will go down. As I mentioned earlier, contingent self-esteem is a broad term. We obviously are focusing on this in the work context but you can imagine it exists in other realms of identity. Fathers’ self-esteem may be tied to their parenting. Athletes’ self-esteem may be tied to their physical abilities. If any of them feel like they aren’t doing their best in their specific context, their self-esteem will suffer. Work is one of those contexts where many of us place importance and value that links back to how we feel about ourselves.

Doesn’t it just feel great to be doing well at work?

WCSE and Wellness

Recent research has looked to understand how WCSE impacts well-being at work and outside of work. What did they find? Interestingly, WCSE leads to different types of motivation. The three types of motivations are:

  • Intrinsic Motivation: doing something because you enjoy it
  • Identified Regulation: doing something because you see the value
  • Introjected Regulation: doing something to maintain your reputation

As you can imagine, you can have one or all of these motivating your behavior at work. But the first two are better than the last one! Let’s break down the findings a bit. If you are motivated because you want to maintain your reputation (introjected), you are more likely to be dissatisfied in your job. However, if you are motivated to work hard because you love what you do (intrinsic) or find it valuable (identified), you are more satisfied in your job. In addition, if you see that value (identified), you are less anxious at work.

Let me explain a bit further. If your self-esteem depends on you doing a good job at work, you will be motivated to do a good job. It’s the type of motivation that can vary. And those motivations impact your well-being. As we’ve discussed many times before, job satisfaction means you are happy in your job and thus better off. It’s better to be motivated because you like what you are doing or you see the value in it versus trying to maintain your esteem and reputation.

What motivates you at work?

What Can You Do?

So what? Now that you know about work-contingent self-esteem, motivation, and how it impacts wellness, what do you do with that? First, take a minute and think about whether you are one of those WCSE people. Is your opinion of yourself tied to how well you do at work? If the answer is yes, we have a few tips for you!

First, take some time and think about how you can do more of the work you are interested in. We’ve talked about this before when we’ve talked about callings. Try to maximize the amount of time you are spending on tasks and projects you enjoy. That will help you increase your intrinsic motivation!

Second, remind yourself of the value of each task and project. Sometimes, your work will be boring. But to keep yourself motivated in the right way, think about how those boring tasks and projects impact the big picture. Why are they valuable? How will this help you create the value you want to create in your work? If you can keep bringing yourself back to the value of what you are doing, you can maximize your identified regulation!

And if you lead people, work to create a supportive and interesting work environment. Find out what your team members like to do and give them more of those projects/tasks. You can also make sure they understand the value of their work. Let them know why what they are doing matters!

Now, we’d love to hear from you. Is your self-esteem tied to your work? How do you ensure your wellness? Let us know below!

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