The well-being consequences of work-contingent self-esteem

Lauren Elizabeth Kuykendall, Purdue University


Research showing that work-contingent self-esteem (i.e., the degree to which workers’ self-esteem is based on workplace performance) has positive consequences for performance has led to suggestions that work-contingent self-esteem may be a desirable worker characteristic. To evaluate this suggestion, it is necessary to understand the consequences of work-contingent self-esteem not only for performance but also for well-being. Drawing on self-enhancement and self-determination perspectives, I propose a model that delineates the mechanisms by which work-contingent self-esteem likely influences worker well-being. I suggest that, by activating self-enhancement motives and triggering self-validation goals, work-contingent self-esteem may harm well-being by obstructing need fulfillment and generating work anxiety and – through its effects on need fulfillment and anxiety – may lead to more distal well-being consequences including impaired subjective well-being at work (e.g., job dissatisfaction and impaired job affect), impaired mental health (e.g., job burnout), and impaired physical health (e.g., self-reported illness). A longitudinal test of my predictions using a heterogeneous working sample suggests that, while work-contingent self-esteem may have a small negative effect on well-being via the proposed mechanisms, this negative process appears to be only one of many mechanisms linking work-contingent self-esteem and well-being, and the omitted mechanisms appear to either counteract or overshadow the proposed negative effects, resulting in overall harmless or even helpful effects on well-being at work. Post-hoc analyses show that – despite not harming well-being at work – work-contingent self-esteem does appear to generate negative non-work experiences such as work-family conflict and lack of leisure rest, particularly when job demands are high.




Tay, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Occupational health|Occupational psychology

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