Overcoming Low Self Esteem at Work: Part 5

by Crystal on February 11, 2009

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Overcoming Low Self Esteem At Work

If you’ve heard of the 80/20 rule, you might already know what I’m going to say here.  If you haven’t, it’s the principle that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts – or that returns are usually disproportionate to what’s put in.  It means that there are a few key things that if you target them, will make the biggest difference.

Guess what.  It applies here.

My work cubicle from a distance
Image by Damek via Flickr

The Independent Mindset

Changing your mindset is one of those biggest things, but there’s a final 20% tweak that will boost your confidence and self esteem out of all proportion.  That last little jump is where you take the step from being a positive employee, to being an empowered individual who happens to choose to be an employee (but only for this organisation at this particular time).  See the difference in relative power positions?

If you’re a manager, and two of your people perform well, but one of them has this attitude and you KNOW they might walk away at any time – who would you be offering the promotions to, and giving recognition and feedback to?  It’s true – the squeaky wheel does get the oil.   Which one would have any workplace issues or complaints that arise sorted out quicker, do you think?

Self Promotion

For your employer to recognise your worth, you will sometimes have to step outside your boundaries and tell people what you’ve accomplished.  Otherwise, often, they’ll have no idea what you do.  If you’re feeling under-appreciated, stop and think for a moment if you’ve let people know just what accomplishments they should be appreciating? Ultimately, you want to get yourself empowered enough that you’re comfortable talking about what you’ve achieved, and nobody has any doubts that you’re a valuable member of the team.

Many places have monthly reports in which you list the work that you managed, any process improvements you put in place, any incidents that arose etc – even if your workplace doesn’t do that there’s nothing stopping you from briefly putting points into a one page document at the end of each month, so that you can check back on it later yourself.  It’s important to write down, because even though something may seem huge to you now, the pace of work will keep right on throwing things at you and it won’t be long before this month’s major achievement is forgotten.  Besides being a positive reminder of all the things you can and have done for the company, it’s also fantastic for when you need to put together a resume, or go for a promotion.

Meeting Challenges

If you’re stuck trying to find things to list for your ‘monthly report’ above, remember that it’s the things we find toughest to do that give the greatest satisfaction, so instead of avoiding the really challenging jobs at work, why not work on facing a few of them.  Line up support from your boss first so you can get help and input as you need it, (and so they know you’re stretching yourself) but you’ll build up a great reputation and some great resume fodder this way.  You might also meet the contact that helps you shift across to something better, or find something different entirely. Start with small challenges, and as you find yourself stretching to meet them you can move it up a notch.  This can be a great way to outgrow your old job and shift into a promotion.

It’s also a brilliant way to build up your own estimate of what you’re capable of!

Finding Your Niche

Do you have some tasks that you’re especially good at doing in your job description? Have any of your notable skills ended up being added onto your workload just because you’re the best at doing them, whether they’re part of your role or not (computer skills often end up that way, especially support and training for whatever you’ve got an expertise in).  What parts of your job do you enjoy doing so much that time melts away when you get stuck in?  Why not talk with your boss about using those skills a bit more, so you can enjoy your work time a bit better.  Of course the art of persuasion is to convince him/her that letting you do this has benefits for them, but there’s nothing says you can’t get the enjoyment too.

Start thinking about how you could redesign your position so that it suits you and your talents better.  Try getting a few extra training courses in that will give you a solid foundation for any lateral shifts you might need to get where you want to go.  Taking a leading role in creating your dream job is the best (and so far as I know, the only) way to end up with it. 

Addressing Major Issues

Most of the workplace studies agree, the main reason that people end up leaving jobs is not because of the workplace, or even in many cases workload, although both of these may be contributing factors.  The final straw is usually personality issues with someone at work.  It may or may not be your boss, but if there’s anyone you work with whose personality just grates on you (or who doesn’t bother to hide their issues with you) these are the hardest issues to get over.  After all, you’re spending more time with them than with your family, in most cases.

There are 4 rules of thumb for dealing with a situation like this.

  1. Stay professional about it.  Regardless of what the other person is saying/doing, you’ll end up looking better if you’ve refused to stoop to infighting yourself.  If you’re not rising to the bait, eventually most people will stop dangling it. (The one exception is workplace bullies.  If this is your situation, you need to work on getting out because your salary just isn’t worth your health.  Try to line something up before you leave, though.  It’s easier and less stressful in the long run.)
  2. Never vent to anyone at work, unless they’re in a direct position to do something to fix the situation.  Save your gripes for your support network.  This feeds back into point 1, and leaves you looking all the more professional.
  3. Don’t let it interfere with your work.  If it ever gets to the point where you’re becoming unable to do what you’re there to do, you need to act urgently using whatever complaint management options are open to you.  Most workplaces will have a policy in place.  If it’s your own management causing the issue, see if you can sidestep them by going to your union, or moving higher up the chain (be very careful about this one, in some circumstances it can cause more issues)
  4. Manage the stress.  You’ll have to make sure that your life outside work includes some activities that help you unwind, or the problem will build over time.  Exercise or team activities especially will help by giving you positive interactions with people to counter the negative ones.  Give yourself the TLC you need.  Massages are always good :)

Always remember, you have choices, and if you choose at any time to sack your current supervisor for a lateral shift, or even a different job, that’s entirely your option.  If the reasons you chose the job in the first place are powerful enough, by focusing on them, the little games others play will seem meaningless and unimportant by comparison.

What do you do?

Just about everyone’s got war stories about tough times in the work trenches.  What’s yours?
How about sharing your favourite tip for keeping your chin up when work tries to get you down?

(Best answer by the end of the month wins a $97 prize)


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