Using Self-Knowledge to Boost Your Success and Well-Being at Work
Which of these personalities best matches yours? Tina's, who comes to work with a smile on her face, who talks about her role positively, and seizes new opportunities with relish? Or Rachel's, who looks permanently stressed and upset, complains about her lack of success, and blames all her problems on others?
Tina and Rachel clearly experience their working lives very differently, even though they're on the same team, doing the same job. Their differences may be due to their core self-evaluations (CSE) – how they view key aspects of their personality and outlook.
In this article, we examine how core self-evaluations can affect your success and satisfaction at work. You'll also discover how you can use CSE to understand yourself better, improve what you do in your current role, and move forward in your career confidently.
What Are Core Self-Evaluations?
Core self-evaluations are instinctive judgments that we all make about ourselves and our lives.
CSE have a direct impact on how well we do at work, and how we feel about our work. They can also give us a more accurate picture of ourselves, so that we "play to our strengths."
People can have high and low CSE, but we can improve our CSE, to boost both our performance and our well-being.
High-CSE individuals are generally better at coping with stress, and are less prone to burnout. They're better at learning from training, more conscientious, and good at leading and inspiring their teams.
They seek out appropriate support, maintain a positive outlook, and manage multiple roles and responsibilities, in and out of work. Research in the Journal of Applied Psychology even shows that salaries rise along with CSE!
At its best, the core self-evaluation process creates a "virtuous cycle." If you can boost your CSE, you feel more in control and see yourself as more useful and worthy – and your CSE scores keep going up.
Core self-evaluations are of growing interest to human resources professionals, who can use them to match people to appropriate roles. They can also help individuals and their managers to make more effective career-development plans.
There are two main theories about why our core self-evaluations affect our work and careers.
One is that they lead us to act in a certain way when we’re seeking work. People with high CSE push hard to get a job they’ll enjoy and be good at. They’re also more likely to look for ways to improve a job they've already got.
The other theory suggests that it's more about how we think. For example, if we've got high CSE, we're more inclined to think positively about our job, to work hard at it, and to enjoy it.
The first known mention of CSE was in a 1984 lecture by clinical psychologist Edith Packer. They’ve also featured in a number of academic papers, following the publication of influential research in 1997.
The Four Dimensions of CSE
Core self-evaluations are based on four personality "dimensions." Research shows that, in combination, these are highly accurate predictors of job success and satisfaction.
The four dimensions are locus of control, neuroticism, generalized self-efficacy, and self-esteem. Let's look at each of them in turn:
1. Locus of Control
When something good happens, or things go wrong, do you assume it's down to luck or a result of your own actions?
If you tend to think that outside forces are in control of your life, you have what psychologists call an "external locus of control." But, if you believe that you’re in control, you have an "internal locus of control" – and that's often more helpful, because you’ll be more satisfied with the role you play and the work you do.
In terms of CSE, neuroticism refers to how well you can control unwanted emotions such as anxiety and anger. If you rate highly for this (that is, you have a low level of neuroticism), you'll likely be good at coping under pressure.
People with low ratings (high neuroticism), however, are more likely to worry, to suffer from low moods, and to experience feelings of helplessness, at work and beyond.
Neuroticism is also one of the factors in the popular Big Five Personality Traits Model, OCEAN. You can learn more about this in our article.
3. Generalized Self-Efficacy
If you rate yourself highly for this trait, you'll seek out ways to extend your abilities – and then keep practicing until you succeed. You'll likely feel satisfied that you're in a suitable role now, but you also have the confidence to set high targets for the future.
High self-esteem is linked with having a positive outlook, coping well with setbacks, and expecting high standards, from yourself and others.
How to Carry out a Core Self-Evaluation
Now that we know what CSE and the four dimensions are, let's look at how you can put them into practice.
First, download our free Core Self-Evaluations worksheet to help you to reflect on each of the four CSE dimensions.
For each dimension, consider:
- Your current feelings.
- Things that have helped in the past.
- Anything that’s hindered you in this area.
- Ideas you’d like to try in the future.
Write your notes and observations in the boxes on the interactive worksheet.
Next, give yourself a score out of 10 for each of the four aspects of CSE. This will help you to notice your current strengths and weaknesses, and to record how your CSE ratings change over time (see Boosting Core Self-Evaluations, below).
Highlight strategies that you can implement yourself, but also collect ideas to discuss with co-workers and managers.
If you're a manager, you could use this exercise in coaching sessions, or as a group exercise with your team – but bear in mind that some team members may prefer to keep their results confidential.
How to Improve Your Core Self-Evaluations
Here are some ideas for boosting all four aspects of your CSE.
1. Developing an "Internal" Locus of Control
Understanding your locus of control is a key part of taking responsibility for your own success. Our quiz will help you to begin evaluating your locus of control, and give you ways to start altering it to your advantage.
If you're helping someone else to reflect on their outlook, you can use questions such as, "What determines what happens in your life?" and, "What's controlling the success in your career?"
If their answers reveal an external locus of control, you can start shifting power back to them by asking, "Where did that belief come from?" and, "How would it help if you knew you were in complete control of your success?"
In addition, to give people a greater sense of control, think about ways to remove some of the unpredictability from their role. For example, check that they're working toward SMART Goals (goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound).
2. Reducing Neuroticism
You can learn more about the way your mind works, and start to change it, with our quiz, Are You a Positive or Negative Thinker?
Ask yourself (or your team members) questions like, "What can you do to not get so stressed in challenging situations? What would be a more appropriate way to react?"
Help yourself and others to address any issues around anger management. A stress diary can be useful for understanding where stress is springing from, and for monitoring your attempts to handle it better.
3. Boosting Generalized Self-Efficacy
Our article, Dweck’s Fixed and Growth Mindsets, will help you to understand your typical approach to the challenges you face. It also explains the steps that you can take to switch to new, more beneficial ways of thinking.
Signs of low self-efficacy can sometimes be seen in the low targets that people set for themselves and others. Further symptoms might be negativity toward new challenges, and poor performance in teams.
If self-efficacy seems low, in yourself or a colleague, try to focus on unique strengths and capabilities. It can also be a good confidence-booster to watch people with similar skills and experience performing more advanced tasks.
And take care when you're giving feedback. Combine steps for improvement with plenty of positive reinforcement, leaving people feeling respected, supported and valued.
4. Improving Self-Esteem
Be alert to the way that you and others introduce yourselves. When does modesty tip into a concerning lack of self-worth? Signs of low self-esteem can also be visible in the way that someone dresses, or how they look after their personal workspace. If someone feels that they don’t have any value or worth, they can begin to neglect themselves and their workspace.
Our article on Boosting Your Self-Esteem has tips for thinking more positively about your value at work, which can help you to move forward in your career with confidence.
To improve self-esteem further, recognize and celebrate accomplishments. Help your people to find new opportunities to succeed, or seek them out for yourself. And do your best to ensure that effort is recognized, as well as end results.
Finally, as a manager, do everything you can to be a great role model, demonstrating confidence, resilience and respect.
How someone is affected by their CSE will depend on their overall motivation, and by how satisfied they are with life in general. Other factors play a part too, including how valuable they think their role is, and how much it challenges them.
Core Self-Evaluations (CSE) are personal judgments based on four key factors that can help you to predict and increase your career success, your job satisfaction, and your general sense of well-being. They are:
- Locus of control reflects the extent to which you feel that your own actions influence the results you achieve.
- Neuroticism is how well you handle negative emotions such as anxiety and anger.
- Generalized self-efficacy is your confidence to perform well in a variety of situations.
- Self-esteem refers to your overall sense of worth.
All four dimensions of CSE can be boosted – in yourself and your people – to improve performance now, and to help you to make the right decisions for your future career.
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