I’ve been prompted to write this post as, during August, I’ve heard three real-life stories about bullying at work. One by a senior manager, one by a client, one by a new Programme Director eager to prove himself.
Before you ask, two were male and one was female. However, I’ll leave the gender dimension to another day. It’s not unimportant. However, there are two questions that I believe are even more important: a) What drives people to abuse power in this way? and b) What can sane people do about it?
In order to set the scene, I would like to first put forward five reasons why I believe self-worth (and not just self-esteem) is of crucial importance in today’s workplace:
First of all, performance improves when people ditch the baggage of endless self-evaluation. While occasional self-assessment can be beneficial, the ever-present tendency towards self-evaluation just feeds narcissism and insecurity, rather than real job performance.
Second, resilience and energy improves. When professionals have self-worth, they bounce back more swiftly from setbacks and disappointments. Given that professional life is frequently tough and unfair, this is rather important.
Third, teamwork gets better. Many of the principal enemies to good teamwork are insecurity, trying to prove oneself, self-preoccupation and an incessant drive to be “interesting”. With self-worth comes a calm sense of self-assurance, valuing oneself rather than proving oneself. Just think of how much shorter meetings would be, if each person only spoke when they really had something to say!
The fourth benefit comes as a result of the first three: people are better able to spot opportunity when they have self-worth and energy. Because they are more interested in the world around them, rather than stuck in a cycle of proving themselves or trying to be “right”, or low in energy, they can see where the needs are and where improvements would be useful.
Finally, they are more creative. Some of this flows from the previous points, but perhaps the greatest benefit of all comes from releasing the inner critic. Creativity is one of the causalities of our contemporary culture of assessment. If people are afraid of making mistakes (and hence getting a negative review) it’s hard for them to be creative. Even when such reviews are not given by the boss, they are often given by the inner tyrant of self-esteem.
Taken together, these five benefits constitute powerful reasons for any business or organisation to pay attention to self-worth, rather than just to its glamorous cousin, self-esteem.
Now let’s come back to the bullies. Very often, bullies are people with low self-worth, who hide behind an aggressive exterior of confidence and confrontation. Yet, it takes real courage to look them in the eye and stand up to them. At times, this can be dangerous… which is all the more reason why you have to value yourself unconditionally. Even if you “fail”, you have to be a friend to yourself.
We need courageous people in the workplace. If everyone goes off to the ashram or into cosy retirement, who will be left to challenge the egocentric leaders and the bullies? That’s why we need self-worth at work.