Why low self-esteem may hurt you at work


This article first appeared on NBC's BETTER.

On the world stage, Americans tend to get labeled as confident, cocky and entitled — but that's an over-generalization that only applies to a fraction of professionals. In reality, millions of American workers across all different industries struggle with low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. The costs often have adverse economic effects.

As someone who may struggle with low self-esteem in the workplace, it's important that you understand what's really happening and how it's impacting your earning potential. The sooner you confront this issue, the more likely that you'll enjoy a more prosperous career.


"One of the main obstacles to financial success is low self-confidence," bestselling author Barrie Davenport points out. "Low confidence makes us doubt our abilities and judgment and prevents us from taking calculated risks, setting ambitious goals and acting on them. At work, people who suffer with this problem often engage in subconscious behaviors that undermine their success, making them less likely to ask for or get promotions, raises and even jobs."

Low self-esteem is problematic for a variety of reasons, but one of the biggest issues is that it can be quite conspicuous. People notice low self-esteem right away and, unfortunately, coworkers, bosses, customers and clients make negative assumptions about people who exhibit behaviors of low self-esteem. For some reason, there's a belief that low self-esteem goes hand in hand with incompetence and apathy.

From a general point of view, it's better to have confidence and high self-esteem. But what specific economic consequences do sufferers of low self-confidence deal with throughout their careers? Let's examine a few:

  • Lower earnings. Davenport points to a study that shows individuals who are from blue-collar families and possess self-confidence earn roughly $7,000 more per year than their peers who have low self-esteem. In white-collar classes, the gap is even larger. Those with high self-esteem earn approximately $28,000 more annually than those who lack confidence. Over a 40-year career, that adds up to $280,000 to $1.12 million in lost earnings.

  • Entrepreneurial inactivity. How many times have you had an idea for a product or service, but been too afraid to pursue it? A lack of confidence often gets in the way of a good idea and leads to entrepreneurial inactivity. It's clear that people with high self-esteem are much likelier to start their own ventures and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

  • Less financial risk. Finally, people with low self-esteem don't like to take risks with their money. So, instead of taking a chance on investments that have some risk/reward attached to them, they stash their money in low-interest accounts that earn measly rates of return.

There's a belief that low self-esteem goes hand in hand with incompetence and apathy.

These are just a few of the costs, but they give you an idea of just how much you're missing out on. Low self-esteem might be a minor annoyance in certain areas of your life, but it's downright expensive in your professional life.

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If you're one of the 85 percent of people who suffer from low self-esteem, it's time to get to the heart of the issue and address it. By improving your confidence, you can enjoy a happy and lucrative career.

Here are a few tips to get you moving in the right direction:


While there are much deeper issues associated with self-esteem, one of the biggest factors involves physical appearance. If you aren't confident in your outward appearance, then you may find yourself hiding, apologizing or overcompensating. And in many cases, there are three common pain points: teeth, weight and blemished or scarred skin. By dealing with appearance issues, you can give yourself an immediate boost of confidence and turn your attention toward the root of your self-esteem problem.


In order to eradicate self-doubt, you have to fill yourself up with positive thoughts and truths. Whenever you find yourself struggling, grab a pen and paper and write down your strengths. This process of identifying positive attributes will breed confidence.

It might also be helpful to keep an accomplishment journal. In this journal, you can write down all of the accomplishments you've had each day. Then, when self-denial creeps in, you can flip through the pages and see that you are valuable and worthy.


Finally, you need to be cognizant of who you surround yourself with. If you're with people who are petty, arrogant and egotistic, you're probably going to have an inferiority complex. However, by surrounding yourself with supportive people who believe in you, you'll find that confidence and self-esteem are natural byproducts.


Low self-esteem is a serious problem with serious consequences. If you've tried to cultivate confidence, only to see diminishing returns, it might be time to speak with a therapist who can help you identify the root causes and aggressively pursue a life that's characterized by high self-esteem. Now's the time to do something!