How to Supervise an Employee with Low Self-Esteem


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Yesterday, one of my subordinates made a small mistake in a procedure she was coding. I asked her why she made, without any intention of accusing her. I was expecting her to come up with the response that she had either forgotten the correct procedure or she would find a better way to do it in the future. At the time, I was genuinely seeking an opportunity to teach her the correct way to do the procedure.

But to my surprise, she came up with a response “I am a fool and perhaps that’s why it happened”. I was astonished at this answer as it not only belittled herself; but did so in front of a senior.

I controlled myself and told her that she should not think that way and saying that she is a fool doesn’t explain what happened. Once again, she repeated that she was a fool and perhaps she was too foolish to have performed the coding procedure at all. By saying this, she shut down all avenues for improvement and ignored my willingness to help her. Nevertheless, I told her that “You’re not a fool and maybe you should just talk to your reviewer”.

That incident still sticks in my mind because I felt like a jerk. I had a feeling that I made her feel bad. On the other hand, I was feeling manipulated because her excuse of stupidity meant that she lacked the capability to learn anything.

This was one of the examples of an employee’s low self esteem that affected her work. Employees with low self esteem can present many challenges to a company. It is difficult for a company to maintain productivity and quality output from employees with swinging moods and negative attitudes. Even without consciously meaning to, managers stop believing in these employees and thus begins a cycle that revolves round distrust, low performance and failure.

It is important for an organization to build the professional reputation or esteem of its employees. Employees with high self esteem are more productive, committed and are simply more motivated. They have more productive relationships with other coworkers and are able to accept criticism gracefully.

Professional self esteem can be defined as the belief of each employee in his/her competence and that they have all the necessary skills to perform their job.

How to Handle Employees with Low Self Esteem

The employees who have low self esteem are passive, aggressive, and defensive. They are also inefficient and less productive. Unfortunately, becoming stricter with them will only make the situation worse. So it is advisable to be patient with them and allow them to work on their own so that they may feel comfortable. This way you eliminate the thought pattern of constant failure from their minds.

As a second step, guide the employees’ behavior rather than their personality. Stop watching these employees too closely or paying attention to everything they say. Also try to avoid face-to-face communication and use mails to indicate any dissatisfaction. This allows you to stop getting provoked at their responses.

Next, communicate the company’s expectations to employees with low self esteem. Define the job description and provide clear performance guidelines. Tell such employees that you recognize their skills and acknowledge results when the employees meet or exceed performance. Reassure the employees that their improved performance was not just good luck and help them attain the confidence they need.

Provide appropriate training and professional development opportunities and encourage them to grow with the company by giving them challenging tasks. A lot depends on a manager’s ability to turn a losing situation into a winning one. Good leaders always go a step further to stop their employees from falling because after all, their employees’ success is theirs as well.

TAGS: Employee Development, Employee Engagement, Employee Management, HR blogs

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