5 Ways to Build Self-Esteem in the Workplace

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem" by Nathaniel Branden. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What role does self-esteem play in one’s professional success? How can organizations help their employees foster healthy self-esteem?

Self-esteem has grown essential to both economic and professional success. In such a world, companies must keep up with constantly changing realities and ever-increasing global competition—which requires employees with high self-esteem.

Here’s what companies can do to promote employees’ self-esteem in the workplace.

How Companies Can Improve Self-Esteem

Self-esteem has become essential to economic success due to the new demands of the knowledge economy. In the manufacturing economy, companies succeeded by having a few leaders who made impactful decisions and a large workforce that obeyed orders. But this isn’t enough to succeed in a world that values knowledge and ideas.

Branden explains that employees at every level of the organization must be able to learn quickly and make effective decisions instead of relying on orders from the top. In order to keep up with constantly changing realities, companies must learn quickly, predict and detect problems, and solve them fast. They need employees who can identify and seize every opportunity they have to come up with new ideas. Similarly, companies can only succeed in a globalized world if their employees are acting consciously. They cannot get too comfortable at the top; they must always remain aware of and respond appropriately to new developments. All of these skills, as we’ve seen, are only possible if you have self-esteem. 

So what must organizations do to promote self-esteem in the workplace and ensure their economic success? Branden makes the following recommendations:

1. Create a culture that fosters innovation and initiative. To do so, managers should encourage their employees to see problems as opportunities, not challenges. They should also give employees the power and materials they need to do their jobs and innovate when necessary. Managers must also budget enough money to implement new innovations. Employees whose creativity is never rewarded will eventually grow disheartened and may lose their creativity altogether. 

2. Create a culture that allows people to lack knowledge and to fail. To do so, managers should set an example: Admit when you don’t know something, and apologize if you fail—but treat it as an opportunity for growth. Branden adds that company policies shouldn’t excessively punish failure: Making the damage of failing greater than the reward of success deters people from taking risks. 

3. Create a rational environment: An environment that people can make sense of is one that supports people’s trust in their own mind. Companies can support rational environments with policies that prioritize fairness and integrity. Managers can support rational environments by clearly laying out what employees must do, explaining why those rules and expectations exist, and respectfully disciplining those who don’t follow them.

4. Create a culture that values people by treating people with respect and acknowledging their contributions. To do so, managers should convey respect and empathy in all interactions. They should also reward good work with promotions, pay raises, and public praise

5. Create a culture that promotes learning and development. To do so, managers should assign employees projects that align with their interests and assets—but that sometimes require their employees to grow in order to successfully complete them.

The Power of Promoting Self-Esteem: The Policies That Helped Netflix Succeed 

In No Rules Rules, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and business professor Erin Meyer describe how Netflix used these recommendations to create a company culture that empowered employees. And, just as Branden contends, Hastings credits this self-esteem-supporting culture with turning the company into a streaming giant that has more than 200 million subscribers across 190 countries, creates award-winning content, and is consistently listed among the best places to work.

Some notable Netflix policies that support self-esteem—which you may consider implementing in your own company—include the following:

Netflix fosters innovation and initiative by letting employees propose and test big ideas—even if their bosses disagree. This same policy encourages learning and development: Although employees can pursue projects they’re interested in, they’re expected to learn from their failures to avoid repeating their mistakes.

Netflix shows its employees that they’re allowed to fail by letting them see their managers fail: In one-on-one meetings, managers schedule time for their employees to give them feedback.

Netflix supports a rational environment by asking employees to act in the company’s best interests instead of having strict travel and expense policies.This prioritizes fairness by allowing people to make wise decisions. For example, an employee who has a big presentation in an unusually expensive location can stay in a decent hotel without worrying about spending limits—and this employee feels fairly compensated instead of griping that he has to have a terrible night’s sleep even though his presentation is for the company. Moreover, managers periodically check their employees’ expenses and correct any employees who’ve gone overboard—which amounts to respectful discipline that works: After a few conversations, employees tighten up their spending. 

Netflix demonstrates it values people by teaching employees to give and receive feedback in encouraging—not demotivating—ways: Employees learn how to treat others with respect and explicitly acknowledge each others’ contributions. 

In addition to the above, Branden argues, both the leader of the company and individual managers must work on their own self-esteem. The leader sets the tone for how the entire company behaves. For example, if the leader fears failure, the company will learn to do the same because that’s what the leader has shown she values. As such, a leader who wants to create a company that supports self-esteem must improve her own self-esteem so that she can transmit those values down the chain of command. The same is true of managers, who lack the full influence of the company leader but still influence everybody they interact with. 

(Shortform note: Branden’s argument suggests you should avoid working for leaders with low self-esteem—but how do you assess that? One leadership expert presents four warning signs that your manager has low self-esteem: 1. She micromanages her employees. 2. She takes all the credit for others’ ideas. 3. She is mean to her employees. 4. She only supports ideas that come from people higher on the corporate ladder than she is.)

5 Ways to Build Self-Esteem in the Workplace

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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