How Managers Can Help Employees Dealing with Low Self-Esteem

BY Austin Richards
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Managers, have you ever had an employee say something like, “Why are you doing this to me?” after you ask them to take on an assignment or work with a specific co-​worker on a project? If so, you may be dealing with a team member who suffers from low self-​esteem. Worst case, you could have an employee with a narcissistic personality who will create problems for you and your team unless you take action. Here’s how to recognize the difference between low self-​esteem and narcissism and a few suggestions offered by experts on how to manage these employees.

Dealing with Low Self-Esteem 

Employees with low self-​esteem fear they can’t do the job they’ve been hired for. They may suffer from imposter syndrome. These employees may sabotage their own success by believing they can’t succeed at whatever project you give them.

To help these employees believe in themselves and their abilities, managers should frequently praise their work output. Encourage them to try hard. And when they complete a project, remark positively on their success. A review of their psychometric assessments can also help you determine the best way to communicate with these employees. 

The good news is that many team members with low self-​esteem develop into highly productive employees and gain confidence over time, especially when they are well-​managed.

When Narcissism Masquerades as Low Self-Esteem

In some cases, managers who believe an employee has low self-​esteem must step back and reevaluate the situation. They may realize they are dealing with an individual who possesses a “difficult personality,” explains Ramani Durvasula in a CNBC​.com post. One of the most challenging and toxic personalities in the workplace is the narcissist.

A manager who assumes positive intent may first try to coach an employee who says, “Why are you doing this to me?” Over time, this employee may verbally challenge their manager by making other statements such as, “I hope you know who you’re messing with,” points out Dr. Ramani. These aggressive statements, coupled with other classic signs of narcissism point to trouble. In the workplace, narcissists might:

  • Exhibit competitive behavior
  • Demand excessive praise and loyalty
  • Take credit for other people’s work

The root of these behaviors often stems from dealing with low self-​esteem, but narcissistic behavior can become extreme. These individuals can disrupt the functioning of a team and drive employees to look for new employment. Wise managers will want to avoid these outcomes.

Managing the Narcissist

The experts encourage managers to directly address narcissistic behaviors and set goals for these team members to achieve, without interfering with other employees. To minimize impact on the culture, some managers may isolate this individual, remove them from supervisory duties and give them assignments as individual contributors.

In the long term, narcissists may refuse or be unable to change their behavior. Managers should be prepared to help them exit the organization in that case.

Identify the Narcissist Before Hiring

Psychometric assessment platforms can help you identify job applicants who have the potential to develop narcissistic tendencies in certain employment situations. If you’ve had the challenging experience of trying to manage this type of toxic personality, you’ll want to review assessment results closely to avoid bringing a similar individual onto your team. When hiring, this can be a difficult decision, because narcissists often possess “magnetic and charming” personalities.

Your team and your organization will benefit from your careful review of psychometric assessments when making hiring decisions. A candidate who is dealing with low self-​esteem will likely be a loyal and productive employee when you match them with the right manager and give them the kind of work environment they need to succeed. On the other hand, you’ll want to use extreme caution when considering whether to onboard a narcissist.

Photo by Kat Smith on Pexels.