It’s a fact that people with low self esteem often need to validate themselves through achievement, and this can be of benefit to an organisation’s bottom line as well as a bonus for their bosses. Unfortunately though, when this is allowed to continue, they will often end up in my offices in crisis. In my private practice I see low self-esteemers-high achievers all the time. The link between stress, self esteem and conflict is so close that when it is not challenged some form of emergency is almost inevitable.

Low Self-Esteemers High Achievers are easy to spot. They’ll be the team members that are putting in more hours and more effort than anyone else. For example, they might be a sales consultants that needs to be top continuously and won’t accept anything else, or a team member that needs constant feedback and who takes up your time but you make allowances for because they are so valuable.

Have you noticed how they thrive on the validation? Have you noticed how they compare themselves to others? Have you noticed how no matter how much they achieve they never seem to be happy?

Are they high maintenance? Constantly seeking confirmation of how valuable/outstanding/brilliant they are? If so, you’ve got yourself a workplace Prima Donna.

You have always suspected it but the ‘greater than everyone else’ attitude and behaviours are not healthy. More often than not they are an elaborate cover designed to motivate and hide the scared, vulnerable and helpless person behind the mask.

In this economic climate where we all need to produce more for less top performers in any area of our business are valuable. As I talk with business owners many acknowledge that they are prepared to swap high maintenance for high performance. Those high maintenance-high performers are what I call the low self–esteemers-high achievers.

What’s self esteem really all about?

Self esteem is how highly a person values themselves. It is whether they consider themselves to be worthy. More specifically, it is about whether people consider themselves to be worthy of love, respect, appreciation, validation, acceptance and similar sentiments. It’s our own judgement of our own worth. As most of us will know, we are often our own harshest critics, as humans we are, in fact, experts at undermining ourselves and our sense of self worth.

Someone who does not feel that they are worthy or does not experience themselves as worthy of respect or appreciation does not sound like the ideal material for a high achiever, but they can be. My experience says that there can often be others at the other end of the scale, the Prima Donnas – putting themselves forward, taking risks, driving results, always needing to achieve more and seeming never to stop. The opposites to the low confidence underachievers in your team, the individuals that constantly avoiding responsibility, limelight, challenge and risk.

How does low self esteem drive business results?
Humans are a complicated species and our internal thought processes can be really complex. At the heart of it there is a complicated human equation going on which in simple form is as follows…

I experience myself as not being worthy of respect. I find this really painful to own up to, so instead I’ll seek external validation of my self-worth in the hope that it will contradict my internal script.

The external validation may be from my boss, my team, my colleagues, and friends or through retail therapy (retail therapy is a misnomer. It’s not therapeutic it’s addictive). At this point it gets really complicated and contradictory because if you tell me I am worthy of respect I will probably not believe you. On the other hand, if you don’t show signs of respect, then a whole different set of reactions that range from trying harder to get your respect to throwing my toys out of the pram and getting angry in an attempt to assert and demand respect. So you can’t win.

Most of us start off, however, with simply trying harder to get that external validation that we crave and a lot of us exist in that state for a very long time. It’s exactly that need for validation that so often drives top level performance.

Low self-esteemers-high achievers: Popular traits
Workplace behaviours that are generated by low self esteem can be behaviours such as:
• Perfectionism
• Aggression – over asserting
• Overworking – borderline addiction
• Over sensitive to criticism
• Critical of others
• Attention seeking

The workplace, in general, does not particularly help those of us with unhealthy self esteem – but should this be the organisation’s job? Workplaces that use job titles as motivators, that openly compare employee performance and link annual appraisals to pay are just a few examples of environments that exacerbate unhealthy self esteem. Take this in to the wider world and there is a population of us out there who think that the goods we buy, the house we own and the job title that we have is a measure of who we are.
How long do you want that top performer with you for? By the very nature of them being top performers they do not grow on trees and replacing them is not easy or cheap. Burn out is a very real consequence for low self esteemers in the workplace. They do not know how to take care of themselves.

Can you have the performance without the drama?
The straight forward answer is yes. People perform at a high level in businesses all over the world without acting like prima donnas or burning out. They do so because the business is clear about their performance expectations and their behavioural expectations.

The overall solution is less straightforward.
Ask yourself these questions:
• Are there clear expectations about behaviours as well as results in the workplace?
• When you appraise performance is it expected you will discuss behaviour as well?
• Do you encourage self appraisal of behaviours as well as performance?
• Do you ask your team what they respect, appreciate and value about themselves as a person and gain a rating or score out of ten? This can be measured from appraisal to appraisal.
• Do you take a genuine interest in your employees’ life, work-life balance and invest in helping them solve their own issues?

Is my employees’ self esteem my responsibility?
You play a part in it so you could take some responsibility. After all you reap the benefits as well the whirlwind.

If you want an emotionally resilient workforce that will deliver value for you and your customers in the long term then your employee’s emotional health and wellbeing needs to be of vital interest to you. For the business to have a long term future, emotional resilience is a 21st Century necessity.