Self-esteem is a term for thinking highly of oneself. There are two forms of self-esteem: general self-esteem and specific self-esteem. Those with high self-esteem tend to be more stable emotionally and are confident in their actions. Self-esteem is important for engineers in research or industry, as engineers tend to work in teams. Stable and confident team members are valuable to a successful project.


What is Self-esteem?

Self-esteem is the feeling of self-worth that an individual has for him or herself. Self-esteem can have positive or negative impacts on a person’s daily life. Self-esteem is well recognized as an essential aspect of psychological health and has been linked to depression and academic achievement among other intangible risks or benefits (Kernis et al., 2006). It is also important to keep self-esteem separated from self-confidence.

How is it Different from Self-confidence?

Self-confidence is the reliance that one has on their ability to achieve a desired result. An engineer with a high level of self-confident would be convinced of their ability to complete a task or at least perform to their full capability. An engineer with a low level of self-confidence would question their ability to perform well. While self-esteem and self-confidence are related, a person’s ability to complete a task, like an engineering problem, doesn’t necessarily weigh on their self-worth or acceptance of themselves (Kernis et al., 2006).

How is it Different from Self-evaluations?

Self-evaluations are domain specific checks that an individual does. The common different areas are physical appearance, intelligence, social skills, athletic ability, and many others. A person will rate themselves in each of these categories and the rating will change over time. After reading a number of books and brushing up on the news daily, an individual may feel especially good about their intelligence but not as great about their physical appearance (Kernis et al., 2006). Again, self-esteem and self-evaluations are quite linked. Each good or bad feeling about one’s self affect self-esteem, but the self-evaluation of a single area cannot determine overall self-esteem.

How are they all the same?

The differences should also point out that these three terms are quite dependent on each other. A person with a high level of self-confidence is far more likely to self-evaluate himself or herself highly. This positive self-evaluation would contribute to a higher level of self-esteem. Some are of the view that a person’s self-esteem is merely a compilation of self-evaluations. Others posit the opposite with overall self-esteem being the reason behind the results of self-evaluations (Kernis et al., 2006). Regardless of which is the cause of the other, the terms are all closely linked, reflecting on each other.

Examples and Implementation

Engineering is dominated by project based work. This means that employees often work on teams to complete projects with known deadlines. There must be an enormous amount of discipline and teamwork if the deadlines are strict and the employer values promptness. A person with high, specific self-esteem is likely to be confident in their ability to face and complete difficult tasks. When the completion of tasks is of the utmost importance, as in the case of a project carried out by an engineering team, it helps to have team members with high self-esteem. These high self-esteem team members will be less affected by the stressors brought on by an ever-changing engineering project (Guindon, 1994). Communication is also essential to the smooth inner workings of the team. A team member with a high level of self-esteem is more likely to voice their opinion, as he or she is more likely to be confident in the point made.

A low level of self-esteem has many consequences in engineering. If an individual doesn’t feel confident enough to speak up in a project setting, the group could be missing out on the greatest idea in the room. This individual tends to feel overlooked and underappreciated, contributing little outside of assigned tasks. Researches have proposed that those with low self-esteem don’t necessarily dislike themselves, but rather that they are unsure of their abilities with neutral feelings regarding themselves. These individuals that have uncertain feelings of their own worth are most likely to go unheard in project work.

It is the job of the manager to encourage those with high self-esteem. The manager also has the somewhat harder task of making sure that those with lower self-esteem do not go overlooked. It is important to note that just as self-evaluations contribute to self-esteem, so does feedback from peers or managers (Sirgy, 2006). A good manager would strive to make a comfortable working environment where criticism is constructive, working out issues instead of leaving a negative reflection. It is common for those with lower self-esteem to associate feedback from a manager as criticism. It must be the goal of the manager to make the feedback process as painless and constructive as possible, decreasing the defensive instinct in the one receiving the review.

There is a common trend in the technology industry of gregarious, self-confident individuals receiving promotions that they may not be necessarily qualified for due to their high self-esteem. Conversely, those with low self-esteem may get passed over for promotion due to their timidity despite the fact that they have mastered all the skills necessary for the job.

Case Study

Beer and Beer (1992) wrote about their study on the burnout of teachers and relating it to their self-esteem. “Individuals with high self-esteem are more effective, active, and assertive in meeting environmental demands while individuals with low self-esteem… tend to withdraw and experience distress. They are more self-punitive, express self-hatred, psychosomatic symptoms, feelings of depression, and distress.” Beer (1992) first tell that self-esteem affects all regions of life, not just the ability to teach. They then go on to show that the data that they have collected support all these statements. Half of all teachers leave the profession in the first ten years, with most of those in the first three years. Beer used their study to connect this surprising burnout rate with depression and self-esteem. They had 59 regular education and 33 special education teachers complete the “Beck Depression Scale, the Coopersmith Self-esteem Inventory, Stress Profile for Teachers, and the Staff Burnout Scale for Mental Health Professionals.” The results showed no significant effect for sex but a large difference between high school and grade school teachers. High school teachers consistently had higher average stress, depression, and burnout scores while lower self-esteem scores. There was a strong correlation between low self-esteem, depression, and burnout across all school types and grades. While the study does not prove absolute truths, it shows that it is fairly likely that depression and low self-esteem are a product of burnout or vice versa. This study was done for teachers, but engineers also experience the burnout and low self-esteem found through these tests.

Application to Senior Project

Just as engineering work revolves around teamwork, the senior project is a collaborative process. The project requires an enormous amount of planning. Between the project proposal, project plan, and risk assessment, lots of thought goes into the designs and implementation before parts are ordered. These planning sessions are all dependent on group collaboration and discussion. Group members with a high level of self-esteem are more likely to contribute their ideas without worry of backlash. These members are also more likely to receive criticism of ideas constructively and learn from mistakes (Gaston & Cappello, 1996). Engineering is not a perfect process and there are many changes to plans and designs over the course of the project. Members with high self-esteem are better equipped to handle these stumbling blocks and respond with constructive solutions. It is immensely beneficial to project work of any kind to have team members that are self-confident and have a high level of self-esteem.

It is, however, unlikely to have a full team of individuals with high self-esteem. There will be team members with lower self-esteem whose ideas may go overlooked when they don’t volunteer in team meetings. Unlike the traditional work world, there is no manager that checks in periodically, giving feedback and engaging all team members. While there is a group sponsor, he or she tends to meet infrequently and give little individual feedback if any. The lack of oversight means that the team members with a higher level of self-esteem must step into that position of including team members with lower self-esteem (McElroy et al., 2007).

Cited References

  • Beer, J. & Beer, J. (1992). Burnout and Stress, Depression and Self-Estate of Teachers. Psychological Report, 71 (3f), 1331-1336. DOI: 10.2466/pr0.1992.71.3f.1331
  • Guindon, M.H. (1992). Understanding the role of self-esteem in managing communication quality, IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication, 37 (1), 21-27.
    DOI: 10.1109/47.272855
  • Kernis, M., Heppner, W., & Lakey, C. (2006). Self-esteem. In J. Greenhaus, & G. Callanan (Eds.), Encyclopedia of career development. (pp. 723-728). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. OCLC WorldCat Permalink: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/62728587
  • McElroy, T., Seta, J. J. & Waring, D. A. (2007). Reflections of the self: how self-esteem determines decision framing and increases risk taking. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 20 (3): 223–240. DOI: 10.1002/bdm.551
  • Sirgy, M. (2006). Quality of work life (QWL). In J. Greenhaus, & G. Callanan (Eds.), Encyclopedia of career development. (pp. 664-668). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. OCLC WorldCat Permalink: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/62728587

Recommended Reading

  • Schutz, W.(1994). “The Human Element.The human element: Productivity, self-esteem, and the bottom line. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. OCLC WorldCat Permalink: http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/30438141
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