Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
Self-Esteem Within the Work and Organizational
Context: A Review of the Organization-Based
Jon L. Pierce∗
Department of Management Studies, Labovitz School of Business and Economics,
University of Minnesota Duluth, 10 University Drive, Duluth, MN 55812, USA
Donald G. Gardner
Department of Management, College of Business and Administration,
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs, CO, USA
Received 20 March 2003; received in revised form 8 May 2003; accepted 8 October 2003
Available online 15 June 2004
On numerous occasions it has been suggested that an individual’s self-esteem, formed around
work and organizational experiences, plays a signiﬁcant role in determining employee moti-
vation, work-related attitudes and behaviors. We review more than a decade of research on an
organization-basedconceptualizationof self-esteem. Itis observed thatsourcesof organization
structure, signals about worth from the organization, as well as, success-building role con-
ditions predict organization-based self-esteem. In addition, organization-based self-esteem
is related to job satisfaction, organizational commitment, motivation, citizenship behavior,
in-role performance, and turnover intentions, as well as, other important organization-related
attitudes and behaviors. Explanations for these effects and directions for future research are
© 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
During the 1970s, Korman (1970, 1971, 1976) published several papers focused on
employee self-esteem. At the center of his work was the suggestion that an individual’s
self-esteem, formed around work and organizational experiences, would play a signiﬁcant
role in determining employee motivation, work-related attitudes and behaviors. We review
夽An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Australian and New Zealand
Academy of Management in Auckland, New Zealand, December, 2001.
∗Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 219 726 7929; fax: +.: +1 218 726 7578.
E-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org (J.L. Pierce), email@example.com (D.G. Gardner).
0149-2063/$ – see front matter © 2004 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
592 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
more than a decade of research which has focused on ’organization-based self-esteem’ –
a conceptualization of self-esteem largely determined by an individual’s work and organi-
zational experiences. We seek to identify what might be the antecedents and consequences
of organization-based self-esteem, and the role played by self-esteem framed within the
work and organizational context. We start by reviewing the self-esteem concept and related
self-esteem theory. We summarize the research focused on organization-based self-esteem
which provides insight into who the high organization-based self-esteem individual is, and
what might be its antecedent and consequent conditions. We also discuss the construct
validity of the organization-based self-esteem instrument and offer some suggestions for
As a preliminary discussion to organization-based self-esteem we brieﬂy discuss the
self-esteem construct. Distinguishing global from organization-based self-esteem, we re-
view the conceptual deﬁnition of organization-based self-esteem and provide a partial ex-
plication of the construct.
The Self-Esteem Construct
Self-esteem refers to an individual’s overall self-evaluation of his/her competencies
(Rosenberg, 1965). It is that self-evaluation and descriptive conceptualization that indi-
viduals make and maintain with regard to themselves. In this sense, self-esteem is a per-
sonal evaluation reﬂecting what people think of themselves as individuals. For Korman
(1970), self-esteem reﬂects the degree to which the individual “sees him [her]self as a
competent, need-satisfying individual” (p. 32); thus, the high self-esteem individual has
a “sense of personal adequacy and a sense of having achieved need satisfaction in the
past” (Korman, 1966: 479). In addition to reﬂecting a cognition about oneself, Pelham and
Swann (1989) note that self-esteem also consists of an affective (liking/disliking) compo-
nent – high self-esteem people like who and what they are. Thus, people high in global
self-esteem agree with statements like “I am a person of worth, on an equal plane with
others” and “I am satisﬁed with myself” (from Rosenberg’s, 1965, widely used measure of
The self-esteem construct is usually conceptualized as a hierarchical phenomenon. As
such, it exists at different levels of speciﬁcity, commonly seen in terms of global, and task
or situation-speciﬁc self-esteem (Simpson & Boyle, 1975). As a multifaceted conceptu-
alization of the self, scholars (e.g., Korman, 1970;Shavelson, Hubner & Stanton, 1976)
generally agree that self-esteem may also develop around a number of other dimensions
(e.g., the social, physical, academic, and moral-self).
To date, most of our understanding of self-esteem in general and self-esteem within
the work and organizational context stems from research focused on global (chronic)
self-esteem(Brockner,1988). Researchfocused onan organization-basedconceptualization
of the self has, however, started to emerge.
J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622 593
Buildingupon the notion thatself-esteem is a hierarchicaland multifaceted phenomenon,
and Coopersmith’s (1967) observation that self-esteem indicates the extent to which the
individual believes him/herself to be capable, signiﬁcant, and worthy, Pierce, Gardner,
Cummings and Dunham (1989) introduced the concept of organization-based self-esteem.
Organization-based self-esteem (OBSE) is deﬁned as the degree to which an individual
believes him/herself to be capable, signiﬁcant, and worthy as an organizational member.
Elaboration of the construct casts OBSE as a self-evaluation of one’s personal adequacy
(worthiness) as an organizational member. It reﬂects the self-perceived value that indi-
viduals have of themselves as important, competent, and capable within their employing
organizations – employees with high organization-based self-esteem have come to believe
that “I count around here.” Consistent with Korman’s (1966, 1970, 1971, 1976) view of
self-esteem, people with strong organization-based self-esteem have a sense of having satis-
ﬁed their needs through their organizational roles. OBSE is less malleable than task-speciﬁc
self-esteem, but more malleable than global. Early in one’s tenure with an organization,
OBSE is an outer level conceptualization of the self – state-like, reﬂecting unstable feel-
ings of self-regard (Campbell, 1990). With increasing tenure, self-esteem evolves from a
primarily outer level to a less changeable inner level self-concept (Campbell, 1990). Thus,
for most job-experienced employees OBSE is highly stable (Pierce et al., 1989). Organi-
zational members with high OBSE have come to believe that “I make a difference around
here” and that “I am an important part of this place” (from the OBSE Scale; Pierce et al.,
We notethat while OBSE ishighly stable ina similarly stablework environment,changes
inthe latter canproduce changesin OBSE (seediscussion in thefollowing; e.g.,Pierce etal.,
1989). It is because OBSE is potentially changeable (e.g., increased) that organizations may
affect OBSE by changing its likely antecedents (see the following).
Theorizing on Organization-Based Self-Esteem
Scholars have reasoned that individuals form a self-concept around work, and that their
organizational experiences play a powerful role in determining their level of self-esteem.
In this section, we will summarize existing perspectives on the theory of self-esteem, ad-
dressing the question – What are the determinants and consequences of self-esteem which
is formed around work and organizational experiences?
The literature on the origins of global self-esteem (cf. Brockner, 1988;Franks & Marolla,
1976;Korman, 1970, 1971, 1976) suggest that self-esteem is affected by several forces
(forces similar to those that give rise to self-efﬁcacy; Bandura, 1982). These determinants
can be categorized as (1) the implicit signals sent by the environmental structures to which
one is exposed, (2) messages sent from signiﬁcant others in one’s social environment,
and (3) the individual’s feelings of efﬁcacy and competence derived from his/her direct
and personal experiences. Building upon this work, Pierce et al. (1989) reasoned that the
determinants of organization-based self-esteem are similar, yet grounded in one’s work and
594 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
Speaking to the role of work environment structures, Korman (1971) noted that in mech-
anistically designed social systems people tend to develop low levels of self-esteem. Mech-
anistic organizations achieve a high level of system-imposed control through a division of
labor, rigid hierarchy, centralization, standardization, and formalization. Such social system
structuring promotes the development of belief systems that are consonant with the inherent
mistrust in the abilities and willingness of people to self-regulate. Building upon Korman’s
work, Pierce et al. (1989) theorized that any form of system-imposed behavior control, or
external control system, carries with it an assumption about the incapability of individu-
als to self-direct and self-regulate. One consequence of a highly structured and controlled
system is likely to be the suggestion to employees that they are not competent within the
organizational context. By way of contrast, complex job designs, non-routine technolo-
gies, organically designed and high involvement social systems lead to higher levels of
self-esteem because they are less structured, tend to see people as a valuable organiza-
tional ‘resource’ and provide them with greater opportunities to self-regulate and express
themselves in their organizational roles.
As people experience higher levels of self-expression and personal control, there is an
increased likelihood that the individual will attribute positive events to themselves, thereby
affecting their level of organization-based self-esteem. It could be argued that as work
environment structure decreases and personal control increases, people will come to see
themselves as capable of independent action and thereby develop a sense of self-worth
consistent with that personal image.
A second major source from which self-esteem emerges are the social messages re-
ceived and internalized that come from meaningful and signiﬁcant others (Baumeister,
1999; Brockner, 1988;Brookover, Thomas & Paterson, 1964). To the extent that oth-
ers think that an individual is able, competent, and need-satisfying, and over time com-
municates that perception through their words and behaviors, an individual will come
to hold similar self-beliefs (Korman, 1970, 1976). In this sense an individual’s OBSE
is, in part, a social construction, shaped and molded according to the messages about
the self transmitted by role models, teachers, mentors, and those who evaluate
the individual’s work. Once these messages are internalized and integrated into the
person’s conceptualization of and evaluation of the self, they become a part of the self-
Finally,ithas been suggested thatself-esteem ﬁnds partof its originin direct andpersonal
experiences (e.g., Brockner, 1988; Korman, 1970, 1976). Individuals who come to feel
efﬁcacious and competent, derived from their own experiences (e.g., successful completion
of a project), come to hold positive images of themselves. Generally speaking, experiences
of success in an organization will bolster an individual’s organization-based self-esteem,
while the experience of failure will have the opposite effect. Bandura’s (1997) work with
self-efﬁcacy provides some insight into this relationship. He suggests that the impact of
past performance (e.g., success and/or failure) on self-beliefs depends on the individual’s
interpretation of that performance and the attributions that are made. Individuals who have
successful experiences and who attribute that success to themselves are more likely to
experience an increase in self-efﬁcacy, which in turn and over time impacts OBSE (Gardner
& Pierce, 1998, 2001). Similarly, an individual who experiences failure and attributes it to
the self will eventually experience a diminution of self-esteem.
J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622 595
Scholars working with the global self-esteem construct (e.g., Brockner, 1988; Korman,
1970, 1976) posit that self-esteem is central to the explanation of employee attitudes (e.g.,
job satisfaction), motivation, and performance. Addressing the question ‘why,’ several
self-regulatory mechanisms have been employed to provide insight into these self-esteem
effects. Among the most visible explanatory mechanisms have been self-consistency moti-
vation (Korman, 1970), self-enhancement motivation (Dipboye, 1977), behavioral plastic-
ity (Brockner, 1988), self-protection (Korman, 2001), or a combination of them (Dipboye,
1977). We have reason to believe that the same self-regulatory mechanisms will play a role
inﬂuencing the attitudinal, motivational, and behavioral effects of OBSE.
Employing self-consistency motivation,Korman (1970) hypothesized that “all other
things being equal, individuals will engage in and ﬁnd satisfying those behavioral roles
which maximize their sense of cognitive balance or consistency” (p. 32). He predicted that
(a)“individuals will bemotivated toperform on a taskor job ina manner which isconsistent
with the self-image with which they approach the task or job situation,” and (b) “individuals
will tend to choose and ﬁnd most satisfying those jobs and task roles which are consistent
with their self-cognitions” (Korman, 1970: 32). This means that people who have positive
images of themselves will engage in behaviors, possess attitudes and choose roles that rein-
force that positive image. In contrast, people who have negative images of themselves will
engage in behaviors (or withhold effort) and possess attitudes that are consistent with that
Cognitiveconsistency motivationandits role asa regulatorymechanism has sparkedcon-
troversy (see Dipboye, 1977;Swann, Grifﬁn, Predmore & Gaines, 1987). Self-enhancement
theory, while offering many of the same predictions as self-consistency theory, provides an
alternative perspective on the underlying dynamics associated with self-esteem effects.
Self-enhancement theory posits that low as well as high self-esteem individuals have basic
needs to enhance their level of self-esteem (Dipboye, 1977;Sedikides, Gaertner & Tosuchi,
2003). In contrast, Korman (1970) argued that “man is consistent and not self-enhancing”
(p. 36). According to Korman (1970), people have a need to align their level of performance
with their self-concept. Self-enhancement theory also postulates that low self-esteem indi-
viduals commonly engage in “damage control.” They lack conﬁdence about their ability to
succeed (Campbell, 1990), and to prevent further erosion of their self-esteem, they com-
monly withhold task-related effort. This lack of effort then becomes the justiﬁcation for
their poor performance, rather than more enduring problems like lack of ability. “Thus, the
low self-esteem person’s failure may reﬂect a rational decision to exert low effort rather
thanan irrational consistencywith theself-perception of inadequacy”(Dipboye, 1977:110;
According to Brockner (1988) behavioral plasticity refers to the extent to which an
individual is affected by external factors (e.g., social inﬂuences). Brockner (1988) hypothe-
sizedthat there are differencesin the degreeto which individualsattend andreact to external
cues. The degree of an individual’s reactivity to external cues is, at least in part, caused
by self-esteem. People with low self-esteem are more behaviorally plastic (reactive) than
those with high self-esteem because the former tend to be more yielding to external cues
(Brockner, 1988). One attribute of low self-esteem individuals is that they seek out and
respond to events in their environment, while high self-esteem individuals are more conﬁ-
dent in their competence and consequently attend to and react to external cues with a lower
596 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
intensity. Low self-esteem individuals experience more uncertainty as to the correctness of
their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and thus rely more on external cues to guide them.
In addition, they seek acceptance and approval from others through conforming attitudinal
andbehavioral acts. Predictionsfrom behavioral plasticityposition self-esteem as animpor-
tant individual difference variable moderating the relationship between work environment
conditions (e.g., adverse role conditions) and employee attitudes, motivation and behavior.
Recently, Korman (2001) conceived of a dual motivational system operating in work
organizations. One is the self-enhancement motivational system, which is activated when
employees see an opportunity to achieve high performance goals, believe they can achieve
them,but alsosee the organizationas encouragingthem todo so. Kormanbelievesproviding
meaningful work and empowering employees to perform will lead to high self-enhancing
employees. A second motivational system, which Korman terms self-protective motivation,
is activated when employees feel they cannot meet performance expectations, and see the
work environment as one that emphasizes punishment in motivating employees. Damage
control, as discussed above, would be evident when self-protection motivation is in oper-
ation. For both motivational systems Korman positions self-esteem as a key dispositional
precursor. High self-esteem precedes self-enhancement motivation, while low self-esteem
precedes self-protection motivation (along with other dispositions like locus of control, and
positive and negative affectivity).
In summary, the various perspectives on how global self-esteem and therefore OBSE
might affect human motivation differ on a number of issues. There is the long-term issue of
whether humans are self-consistent, self-enhance, or do both under different circumstances.
There is also the issue of whether low self-esteem individuals are more reactive to cues in
their social environments than highs. These are research questions beyond the scope of this
review and remain to be resolved in future research (see Discussion section that follows).
Next we turn our attention to a review of research on organization-based self-esteem. The
workthat hasbeen conductedemployingthis constructinforms ourthinking aboutthree sub-
stantive issues, namely, the validity of the instrument measuring this self-esteem construct,
the trait correlates of the organization-based self-esteem, and the work and organizational
experiences which might be its antecedents and consequences.
Research Methodology Issues
In this section we comment on methodological issues that pertain to organization-based
self-esteem. Speciﬁcally, we comment on the instrument per se and existing construct
Pierceet al.’s(1989) instrumentfor the measurementof organization-basedself-esteemis
a 10-item instrument. The instructions ask the respondent to think about his/her relationship
with their employing organization and to indicate the degree to which they have come to
believe in each of each of the following statements: I COUNT around here; I am TAKEN
SERIOUSLY around here; There is FAITH IN ME around here; I am TRUSTED around
J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622 597
here; I am HELPFUL around here; I am a VALUABLE PART OF THIS PLACE; I am
EFFICIENT around here; I am an IMPORTANT PART OF THIS PLACE; I MAKE A
DIFFERENCE around here; and I am COOPERATIVE around here. Each item is measured
with a Likert-type scale anchored strongly agree to strongly disagree.
While the instrument has now been employed in more that a dozen countries (e.g., Aus-
tralia, Egypt, England, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New
Zealand, Poland, Taiwan, Saudia Arabia, Singapore, United States), it is not known to what
extent culture is a boundary condition. It is possible that people from collectivistic cultures
may think of self (e.g., I COUNT around here) differently from those with more individu-
alistic values (see Riordan & Vandenberg, 1994). Finally and as will be seen below, given
the consistently strong coefﬁcient alpha values a more parsimonious instrument might be a
viable option. Several investigators (e.g., Chattopadhyay, 2003;Van Dyne & Pierce, 2003)
have employed a shortened version of the instrument without any apparent effect.
Construct Validation Evidence
Schwab (1980) reminds us that construct validation is a dynamic and on-going process.
Construct validity refers to the degree of correspondence that exists between the conceptual
deﬁnition given to a construct and its operational deﬁnition (Schwab, 1980). According to
Edwards (2003), “Construct validity does not refer to the inherent properties of a measure
or instrument. Instead, it concerns the degree to which a measure represents a particular
construct and allows credible inferences regarding the nature of the construct” (p. 5). While
there is no single test that can be employed to demonstrate construct validity, its evidence
stems from a number of sources (Edwards, 2003; Schwab, 1980). First, construct validity
evidence derives from an examination of the relationship between the conceptual and op-
erational deﬁnition separate from the theory in which the construct is embedded. Second,
evidence speaking to the issue of construct validity stems from the behavior of the measure
within its nomological network.
Our review of the OBSE literature provides us with several new perspectives regarding
the validity of the instrument developed and initially validated in Pierce et al. (1989).
Their developmental and construct validation work involved over 2000 individuals from
a diverse set of organizations and occupations. They conducted seven ﬁeld studies and a
singlelaboratory simulation. Theyprovided evidenceinsupport of thehomogeneity of scale
items, test-retest and internal consistency reliability, convergent, discriminant, incremental,
concurrent, and predictive validity estimates.
The studies reviewed here reveal internal consistency reliability estimates (coefﬁcient
alpha) for the 10-item instrument ranging from .82 to .95. The only alpha value outside of
this range is an internal consistency coefﬁcient of .69 from a Korean sample. The average
reported alpha value is .88.
Employingconﬁrmatoryfactor analyses,VanDyne, VandeWalle,Kostovaand Cummings
(2000) found a single factor solution for the 10-item instrument. Their ethnically diverse
sample included 797 individuals, evenly split between males and female, with respondents
coming from 53 different countries and speaking 102 different native languages.
OBSE was correlated with measures of global self-esteem. As noted earlier global
self-esteem is the overall evaluation and affective orientation toward the self, stemming
598 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
from an accumulation of an individual’s involvement in several different life arenas. It is
therefore possible for an individual to have differing self-perceptions and evaluations from
one arena to the next; thus we are unlikely to witness an extremely high convergence with
global self-esteem. Yet, given the importance of work in the lives of many people we would
expect a relatively strong and positive relationship. Results from a number of American
samples reveal correlations between OBSE and global self-esteem that range between .44
(Jex & Elacqua, 1999) and .54 (Pierce et al., 1989). These ﬁndings suggest modest con-
vergent validity, with both the Rosenberg (1965) and Janis-Field self-esteem scales (Eagly,
Eachstudyconducted subsequenttothe introductionofthe organization-basedself-esteem
construct and measurement instrument was designed to address substantive hypotheses re-
lated to OBSE. From these studies we can gain insight into the nomological validity (i.e.,
concurrent, predictive and criterion-related validity) of the OBSE instrument. The vast ma-
jority of the studies reviewed below provide support for the hypothesized effects related to
OBSE, which leaves us a respectable amount of concurrent validity evidence.
Several studies (reviewed in the following) speak to the instrument’s predictive and
criterion-related validity. Two studies, one an organizational simulation (Pierce et al., 1989)
and the second a longitudinal ﬁeld study (Riordan, Weatherly, Vandenberg & Self, 2001)
provide evidence suggesting that social system and job design affects organization-based
self-esteem. Employing longitudinal data and a correlational design Gardner, Pierce, Van
Dyne and Cummings (2000) reveals a signiﬁcant relationship between job and pay level,
and OBSE. Employing a quasi-experimental design, Riordan et al. (2001) found that an
organization’s socialization tactics affect OBSE. In addition, several investigators observed
OBSE’s lagged prediction of performance and employee attitudes (Gardner & Pierce, 1998,
2001;Gardner et al., 2000; Pierce et al., 1993; Riordan et al., 2001; Van Dyne et al., 2000).
Antecedents of Organization-Based Self-Esteem
Building upon the notion that self-esteem is shaped by work and organizational expe-
riences, and self-esteem inﬂuences work-related motivation, attitudes and behavior, we
provide a comprehensive review of the literature1that has emerged since the introduction
of the measure of organization-based self-esteem (Pierce et al., 1989). We will ﬁrst look at
relationships that have been positioned as the antecedents of OBSE, which include individ-
ual traits, work and organizational experiences.2Next we look at relationships that reﬂect
the hypothesized effects of OBSE. Following a review of this main effects literature, we
will conclude our review of substantive OBSE research by looking at those studies that have
positioned OBSE as either a mediating or moderating variable in several different models
of micro-organizational behavior.
Trait Correlates of OBSE
Research evidence, largely cross-sectional, correlational, and self-report in nature, pro-
vides us with some insight into the person who develops a strong and positive organization-
based self-esteem. We treat issues pertaining to the traits of the person as correlates simply
J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622 599
because the causal connection between OBSE and the different traits awaits theoretical
elaboration, a task beyond the scope of this paper.
We would expect there to be a substantial relationship between global self-esteem and
organization-based self-esteem. After all, work is a major life activity that likely has ef-
fects on both work-related and global self-esteem. As mentioned earlier, observations from
American samples reveal a positive and signiﬁcant relationship between global self-esteem
and OBSE (Jex & Elacqua, 1999;Tang & Ibrahim, 1998;Van Dyne, Earley & Cummings,
1990;Vecchio, 2000). OBSE has also been observed to have a signiﬁcant relationship with
global self-esteem in the Middle East (i.e., Egypt and Saudi Arabia), within a group of
Mexican workers (Borycki, Thorn & LeMaster, 1998), and in a sample of U.K. engineering
consultants (Bowden, 2002). These signiﬁcant non-US sample studies had correlations in
the range of .17 to .56.
Organization-based self-esteem has also been observed to have a positive and signif-
icant relationship with generalized (trait) self-efﬁcacy (Gardner & Pierce, 1998, 2001;
Stark, Thomas & Poppler, 2000) and job-speciﬁc self-efﬁcacy (Kark, Shamir & Chen,
2003). Lee (2003b) also reports observing a positive relationship between OBSE and
generalized self-efﬁcacy in both of his Korean bank samples. Similarly, Van Dyne et al.
(1990) observed a signiﬁcant relationship between class-based self-esteem (a modiﬁcation
of OBSE to the classroom for the students being studied) and a measure of state-based
self-efﬁcacy (i.e., certainty judgments for a particular grade) among their sample of uni-
versity students. Finally, Kark et al. (2003) observed a positive relationship between OBSE
and collective efﬁcacy in their study of a large Israeli banking organization. People with
high OBSE possess higher global self-esteem and view themselves as being more efﬁca-
cious than their low OBSE counterparts. The self-efﬁcacy correlations have ranged between
.19 and .65.
It has also been observed that OBSE is related to several other individual difference
variables. Heck, Bedeian, and Day (in press) and Stark et al. (2000) observed a negative
relationship between OBSE and negative affectivity. While Lee (2003b) failed to observe
a similar relationship, he did observe a positive relationship between OBSE and positive
affectivity in his Korean samples. OBSE has also been found to have a negative relationship
with Machiavellianism (Vecchio, 2000), and a positive relationship with internal locus of
control (Stark et al., 2000), and Protestant work ethic and need for achievement (Tang &
Ibrahim, 1998). Correlations between OBSE and these non-self-concept personality traits
ranged between .21 and .57.
In summary, research on personality correlates of OBSE has been mostly sporadic, with
the exception of global self-esteem. At this point we can characterize the high OBSE in-
dividual as being high in global self-esteem, positive affectivity, internal locus of control,
Protestantwork ethic, and needfor achievement,and low onnegativeaffectivity andMachi-
As noted above, it has been suggested that the origins of self-esteem can be found in three
different forces: the implicit signals sent by organization structures, the messages sent by
signiﬁcant others in one’s social environment (interpersonal relations and organizational
600 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
culture), and feelings of efﬁcacy and competence derived from one’s own experiences
(success-building role conditions).
Organizational structure. From a theoretical perspective, OBSE is believed to, in part,
ﬁndits rootsin theorganizational structuresto whichthe individualisexposed. Organization
scholars(e.g., Berger &Cummings, 1979), forexample, havecommented upon thenegative
effects of mechanistically designed organizational structures and organizational size. Con-
ventional wisdom suggests that large and mechanistically designed social systems breed
an impersonality of interpersonal relationships, which eventually contributes to negative
individual effects, such as job dissatisfaction and alienation. Research evidence conﬁrms
these predictions. Ragins, Cotton and Miller (2000), for example, report a negative rela-
tionship (r=−.17, p<.01) between organization size and OBSE. Chattopadhyay (2003)
also observed a negative relationship between social system size and organization-based
self-esteem. Pierce et al. (1989) observed that employees exposed to a mechanistically de-
signed organization had lower levels of OBSE than those working under a more organically
designedsocial system.Similarly,Tanand Peng(1997) reportpositiverelationshipsbetween
organic structures and a context-speciﬁc organization-based measure of self-esteem.
Complex jobs typically allow employees a high level of self-direction and self-control.
We would expect this to have a positive effect on employees’ self-esteem. Several investi-
gators have explored the relationship between job complexity and OBSE. In each of these
investigations a relatively strong and positive relationship has been observed, both within
North American studies, but also across several other cultures. Speciﬁcally, Tan and Peng
(1997) hypothesized and observed a positive relationship between job complexity (i.e., jobs
characterized by high levels of feedback, task identity, and signiﬁcance) and OBSE, as did
Pierce et al. (1989). Consistent with observations of a positive relationship between job
complexity and OBSE, Chattopadhyay and George (2001) found a positive relationship (r
=.49) between task interdependence (which increases job complexity) and OBSE within
the computer manufacturing industry.
Several investigations looking at the effects of job complexity on OBSE derive from
non-American samples. Lee (2003b), for example, reports ﬁnding a positive relationship
between job complexity and OBSE in both of his Korean bank samples. In his regression
model, job complexity emerges with the strongest beta weight as a predictor of OBSE,
stronger than that associated with positive affectivity and perceptions of participatory man-
agement practices. Vecchio (2000) and McAllister and Bigley (2002) report that there is a
positiverelationship betweenautonomy and OBSE, asdid Borycki etal. (1998) inboth their
American and Mexican samples. Tang and Ibrahim (1998) observed a positive relationship
between job complexity and OBSE in their American and Middle East samples (respec-
tively), while Aryee and Luk (1996) observed a signiﬁcant relationship between interesting
work and skill utilization, and OBSE in their Hong Kong sample. In sum, there is a robust
relationship (rvalues typically ranging between .22 and .61) between the perception that
one performs enriched work and one’s level of OBSE.
Effects associated with opportunities for participation and the exercise of control through
participation in autonomous work groups on OBSE have been examined. Consistent with
theobservation thatthe opportunityto exerciseinﬂuencefavorablyaffects OBSEis Kostova,
Latham, Cummings and Hollingworth’s (1997) observation of a positive relationship
J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622 601
(r=.32) between participation and OBSE. Lee (2003b) reports a positive relationship
(r=.52 and .46) between participatory management practices and OBSE. In a study of em-
ployee owned organizations, Pierce (1997) reports a positive relationship (r=.54) between
perceptions of inﬂuence/control and OBSE. Similarly, Bowden (2002) reports a positive
relationship between work control and OBSE within her sample of British engineering
consultants. Vecchio (2000) observed a negative relationship (r=−.46) between a sense
of lack of control and OBSE, suggesting that coming to feel that one is not able to control
work environmental forces adversely affects one’s OBSE. The effect of leader behavior in
autonomous work groups on OBSE was investigated byElloy and Randolph (1997). They
reasoned that leaders who permit their followers to exercise self-direction and self-control,
and provide the follower with the opportunity to exercise competence and experience suc-
cess, would contribute to OBSE. They found a positive relationship between the degree to
which such leader behavior was displayed and followers’ OBSE.
Consistentwith the perspectiveson the originsof self-esteem within thework and organi-
zational context (e.g., Brockner, 1988; Korman, 1970, 1971, 1976) we conclude from these
studies that work environment structures and management practices (e.g., social system de-
sign, technology, participatory leadership and management practices, job design) that give
rise to opportunities for self-direction and self-control are positively associated with OBSE.
Interpersonal relationships and organizational culture. Korman (1970) and others (e.g.,
Baumeister, 1999; Brookover et al., 1964) have suggested that self-esteem ﬁnds its roots,
in part, in messages of value transmitted from the organization to the employee via inter-
personal relationships and through the culture of the organization. Insight into this source
of self-esteem stems from an examination of a number of sources, among them: trusting
relationships, supportiveness, leader–member relationship, pay level and job level/status,
and work-place discrimination. In the studies reviewed here, each has been shown to have
a relationship with self-esteem.
Pierce et al. (1989) hypothesized that respect displayed by management to the employee
is an important signal which affects the beliefs that employees form with regard to them-
selves within the organizational context. Employing two samples of school personnel, they
observed a positive relationship (r=.30 and .52) between perceived managerial respect
(i.e., management’s demonstration of positive regard for the individual) and the employee’s
OBSE. Chattopadhyay and George (2001) report a positive relationship (r=.52) between
trust and OBSE, suggesting that being in an environment characterized by trust (i.e., trust
in the behavior of one’s work-group peers) has a positive relationship with one’s OBSE (cf.
The effect of leader–follower relationships on OBSE was explored by Kark and Shamir
(2002) and Kark et al. (2003) in their studies of transformational leaders. They observed
a positive relationship (r=.26) between leader attempts to develop the follower person-
ally and intellectually, two distinctive characteristics of the transformational leader, and the
follower’s OBSE. Examining the relationship between charismatic leadership and OBSE,
they report that followers of charismatic leaders come to believe in their personal compe-
tence and worth (i.e., have high OBSE; r=.16).
Heck, Bedeian, and Day (in press) report a positive and signiﬁcant relationship (r=.67)
between the quality of the leader–member exchange relationship and OBSE. Similarly,
602 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
Aryee, Budhwar and Tan (2003) report a correlation of .61 between the same two variables.
Lee (2003b) observed a positive relationship (r=.67) between OBSE and support from
both one’s supervisor (r=.38 and .24) and one’s co-workers (r=.37 and .22) in each of
his Korean samples.
Lee also reports a positive relationship between perceived organizational support and
OBSE (Lee, 2003b), as did Phillips and Hall (2001) in their American sample (r=.70).
McAllister and Bigley (2002) observed a positive relationship between organizational care
andOBSE (r=.23).Employeeswho workfor organizationswhosevaluesand principlesare
centeredonfulﬁlling employeeneedsand interestsreporthigher levelsoforganization-based
Distributive and procedural justice are two important dimensions of organizational jus-
tice. Heck, Bedeian, and Day (in press) reasoned that employees who perceive that they
have been treated unfairly with respect to either decision procedures or outcomes will
“feel less valued and fulﬁlled ... resulting in a diminished organization-based self-esteem”
(p. 12); they report a positive relationship between procedural and distributive justice, and
OBSE (r=.64 and .46, respectively). Chattopadhyay (1999) also reports a positive and
signiﬁcant relationship between OBSE and justice (r=.53), and Wiesenfeld, Brockner and
Thibault (2000) observed a positive relationship (r=.64) between managers’ perceptions
of procedural fairness in the handling of lay-offs and their OBSE. The more managers felt
that a lay-off had not been handled fairly the lower their reported self-esteem. Similarly,
McAllister and Bigley (2002) report observing a positive relationship (r=.39) between
experiences of organizational fairness and organization-based self-esteem. In a somewhat
similar vein, Stark et al. (2000) observed a negative relationship (r=−.30) between expe-
riences of a violation in the psychological contract and OBSE.
In recent years a large number of organizations have implemented employee stock own-
ershipplans. Pierce and Rodgers(in press) reasoned thatgiving an employeean equity own-
ership stake in the organization is potentially a powerful message communicated from the
organizationtothe employeesignalingtheir importance,worth andvaluetothe organization.
Pierce (1997) tested the Tannenbaum (1983) suggestion that ownership is ego-enhancing.
Speciﬁcally, he observed a positive relationship (r=.58) between employee organiza-
tional ownership (operationalized in terms of equity, information, and inﬂuence/control)
and OBSE. When OBSE was regressed on the information and inﬂuence dimensions of
ownership there was a signiﬁcant increase in the criterion variance explained beyond that
accountedfor bythe equitydimension alone.Each ofthe ownershipdimensions hada signif-
icant relationship with OBSE (i.e., r=.33, .54, and .55 for equity, control, and information,
Tang, Kim and O’Donald (2000) examined the relationship between Japanese organi-
zational culture (i.e., family orientation and loyalty, open communication, team approach)
and OBSE in two automobile plants, one Japanese and one American-owned. They found
a signiﬁcant relationship between perceptions of Japanese management culture and OBSE
(r=.61). In addition, they note that employees in the Japanese-owned plant had signiﬁ-
cantly higher levels of OBSE than those employees working in the American-owned plant.
Milkovich and Milkovich (1992) noted that compensation is an organizational signal
that can communicate to an individual his/her value to the organization. Higher pay levels
signal to individuals that “they matter,” that “they can make a difference” and that “that
J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622 603
difference is valued” by the organization (p. 56). These types of messages communicate
to employees that they are a competent and valuable parts of the organization, which in
turn affects employees’ self-esteem. Gardner et al. (2000) examined the pay level-OBSE
relationship and observed a positive and signiﬁcant relationship (r=.27) between pay level
and OBSE. These observations are consistent with Aryee and Luk’s (1996) observation of
a positive relationship (r=.24 and .33) between self-reported income and OBSE, and as
previously noted the positive relationship between an equity stake in the organization and
OBSE (Pierce, 1997). Vecchio’s (2000) ﬁndings suggest, however, that this relationship
may not always materialize. In those situations where an organization’s reward system em-
phasizes win/lose and zero-sum outcomes, Vecchio (2000) observed a negative relationship
(r=−.22) between competitive reward systems and OBSE. Experiences of jealousy and
envy had a negative association (r=−.27 and −.50, respectively) with OBSE. It appears
that pay level can have positive effects on OBSE as long as the pay system does not foster
competitiveness among employees and engender negative emotional reactions.
Tan and Peng (1997) explored the relationship between job status (pay and hierarchical
level) and OBSE. They argued that “job status can be viewed as a form of positive feedback
to the individual that he/she has done well in the organization. This provides an opportunity
for the individual to experience a sense of achievement, which in turn will have a positive
impact on OBSE” (Tan & Peng, 1997: 378). Consistent with their hypothesis, they observed
a positive and signiﬁcant relationship between pay and job level, and OBSE (r=.16 and
.08, p<.05, respectively). Similarly, Gardner et al. (2000) observed a positive relationship
(r=.36) between job level and OBSE.
Finally,severalinvestigationsfocus ondiscrimination intheorganizational context.Yoder
and McDonald (1997, 1998) focused their investigations on sex discrimination in the work-
place. They found that female ﬁre ﬁghters who reported experiencing sexist events had
lower levels of OBSE. Exposure to sexist events results in a personal devaluation and low-
ered OBSE. Feelings of acceptance, on the other hand, has been observed to have a positive
relationship (r=.57) with OBSE (Yoder & Aniakudo, 1996). Ragins and Cornwell (2001)
examineda model ofperceivedsexual orientation discriminationin anational sample of534
gay and lesbian employees. They report a signiﬁcant and negative relationship (r=−.41)
between perceptions of workplace discrimination and OBSE.
From these ﬁndings, we conclude that signals from organizations which communicate to
employeesthat theyare avalued, important,competent and capablepart of theorganization
(e.g., trust, perceived organizational support, pay level, fairness, ownership) are positively
associated with organization-based self-esteem.
Success-buildingroleconditions. Brockner(1988) andKorman(1970,1976) amongoth-
ershave posited thatsuccessful task/work experiencesenhance theindividual’s self-esteem.
As a result we hypothesize that factors that facilitate successful job performance in an or-
ganization would have an effect on OBSE. That is, to the extent that role conditions are
either conductive or obstructive to high performance and to the experience of success, we
would expect them to have consequences for OBSE. Several areas of empirical inquiry
provide insight into the relationship between work conditions and their effects upon OBSE.
The observations reported here range between r=.23 and .61. Negative relationships with
adverse role conditions were also found with correlations in the range of −.27 to −.49.
604 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
The time and effort that an organization puts forth in the socialization of new members
is most likely an important contributor to the initial development of OBSE. Riordan et al.
(2001) argue that organizational socialization tactics represent a set of meaningful experi-
ences that can affect the formation of an individual’s OBSE. In their longitudinal study of
162 banking employees during their ﬁrst six months of employment, Riordan et al. (2001)
found that several institutionalized socialization tactics were signiﬁcantly related to the
employee’s emerging OBSE with rvalues ranging between .25 and .51. They conclude
by suggesting that “the more an organization provides role models, accepts and respects
newcomers’ values, and provides information regarding career paths within the organiza-
tion,the greater the newcomers’ perceptions of... worth [organization-basedself-esteem]”
(p. 164). Addressing socialization experiences, Ragins et al. (2000) examined mentoring
experiences from the protégé’s perspective, and found that mentored individuals had sig-
niﬁcantly higher levels of OBSE than their non-mentored counterparts. They also found
that protégés who reported highly satisfying formal and informal mentoring relationships
possessed higher levels of OBSE than protégés who reported marginal or dissatisfying
Riordan et al. (2001) found, in their study of new organizational members, a positive
relationship between the experience of a good job-self ﬁt and OBSE (r=.39) after three
months of employment. Similarly, providing employees with a work environment that facil-
itates task performance in all likelihood will contribute to successful task performance and
heightened self-esteem. Pierce et al. (1993) report a positive relationship (r=.41) between
work environment performance support and OBSE. Perceptions of adequacy of skills and
training, information, work procedures, and resources were all positively correlated with
OBSE. In addition, supervisory role support, leader initiating structure, and behaviors asso-
ciated with providing employees with goal clarity and direction had positive relationships
(correlations ranged between .23 to .61) with OBSE (Pierce et al., 1993;Tang & Ibrahim,
1998). Covin, Kolenko, Sightler and Tudor (1992) also observed a signiﬁcant relationship
between training adequacy and OBSE (r=.14, p<.01).
Existing evidence quite consistently reveals that adverse role conditions are negatively
related to OBSE. Pierce et al. (1993) found a negative relationship (r=−.34) between
role ambiguity and OBSE, while Lee (2003b) reports positive relationships (r=.47 and
.27) between role clarity and OBSE. Jex and Elacqua (1999) observed a negative relation-
ship between two role conditions (role conﬂict and role ambiguity, r=−.32 and −.34,
respectively) and OBSE. Similarly, Staehle-Moody (1998) reports a signiﬁcant negative
correlation between the amount of role conﬂict present in the job and OBSE. Neal (2000)
concluded that the resolution of role conﬂict and role ambiguity had a signiﬁcant positive
effect on OBSE in his study of park ranger and manager professionals. These ﬁndings sug-
gest that over a period of time people exposed to poor role conditions have a difﬁcult time
experiencing themselves as competent and successful organizational members.
Several investigations provide us with insight into the relationship between stress and
organization-based self-esteem. As hypothesized, organization-based self-esteem appears
to have a negative relationship with stress. Observed correlations ranged from r=−.21 to
−.49. Tang and Ibrahim (1998), for example, found that self-esteem correlated −.31 with
stress, while Jex and Elacqua (1999) observed a negative relationship between OBSE and
frustration (r=−.24), depression (r=−.53), and physical strain (r=−31). They did
J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622 605
not, however, ﬁnal a signiﬁcant relationship between self-esteem and the number of doctor
visits, an indicator of physical strain.
Those who design outdoor management education (OME) programs indicate that one
of the objectives of their programs is to enhance the self-conﬁdence and self-esteem of
its participants. The thrust of an OME program is to provide the participant with difﬁ-
cult challenges and successful experiences as a way of positively affecting self-esteem and
self-efﬁcacy, in the hope that successful experiences on challenging outdoor tasks would
transfer back to the workplace. McEvoy (1997) reports that there were signiﬁcant improve-
ments in OBSE for those participants who went through an organizationally sponsored
OME training program, and they had signiﬁcantly higher OBSE than did their randomized
counterparts who did not experience the training program (McEvoy, Cragun & Appleby,
Increasing evidence suggests that feelings of possession (e.g., “this is mine”) operates
within the organizational context much as it does within the broader realm of the human
condition.VanDyne and Pierce(2004) report onthree samples inwhich organizational con-
ditionsgave riseto feelings ofownership –this is “our”organization. Theyreport signiﬁcant
associations (r=.46, .57, and .45) between feelings of ownership for the organization (i.e.,
psychological ownership) and OBSE.
Several investigators focused on the effects of employment status on OBSE. Hui and
Lee (2000), and Proenca (1999), observed that there is a negative relationship (r=−.32
and −.40) between job insecurity and OBSE. Supporting these observations, Lee (2003b)
observed positive relationships (r=.34 and .30) between job security and self-esteem.
While it is not known how long it takes for experienced insecurity to have an adverse
effect on OBSE, it is reasonable to hypothesize that people who feel that their organiza-
tional security is threatened may come to feel that they are no longer an important part
of the organization – beliefs that are at the core of OBSE. Chattopadhyay and George
(2001) hypothesized that an employee’s work status (temporary or not) would affect the
degree to which the employee feels valued by the organization. Supporting their hypothe-
sized relationship, they observe that OBSE was negatively correlated (r=−.12) with work
From these research ﬁndings, we conclude that positive and success-building role con-
ditions (e.g., performance support, security, role clarity) positively relate to organization-
Beforewe leavethis sectionon antecedentsof OBSE weshould alsonote thatOBSE itself
might have direct and indirect reciprocal effects on these antecedent conditions. Korman
(1976),for example, suggestedthathigh andlowself-esteem individualsmightchose careers
consistent with their levels of self-esteem. As a result, high and low OBSE individuals will
self-select themselves into the types of jobs that contain the types of antecedent conditions
described in this section. In addition, high or low levels of OBSE may result in employees
being exposed to different organizational conditions. A high OBSE employee might attract
a more supportive leadership style, while a low OBSE might attract a more structured
one (as opposed to a predominant leadership style →OBSE causal arrow).3Nevertheless,
we believe these antecedent conditions to be primarily (but not entirely) recursive in the
normal, stable, organizational environment. The same may be said of OBSE’s consequent
conditions, discussed in the next section.
606 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
Consequences of Organization-Based Self-Esteem
As previously noted scholars (e.g., Brockner, 1988; Korman, 1970, 1976) have hypoth-
esized that self-esteem affects employee motivation, attitudes, and work-related behaviors.
In this section we will summarize the main effect studies that have explored the effects of
OBSE in the work and organizational context.
Two investigations, based upon four different samples, have looked at the OBSE-intrinsic
work motivation relationship. Pierce et al. (1989), in their development and validation of
the OBSE scale, observed a positive correlation between OBSE and a measure of work
motivation in each of three samples (r=.21 to .47). Similarly, Hui and Lee (2000) report
a signiﬁcant relationship (r=.17) between OBSE and intrinsic motivation.
Several empirical investigations provide us with insight into the relationship between
OBSE and employee attitudes. Satisfaction and organizational commitment are the two
work-related attitudes that have received virtually all of the research attention.
Observations of a positive relationship between OBSE and workplace satisfaction are
common.ThePierce etal.(1989) studyreportson fourdifferentsamplesin whichself-esteem
correlatedwith job satisfaction(accounting for17–34% of thevariance insatisfaction). Sev-
eral other investigations (e.g., Bowden, 2002;Carson, Carson, Yallapragada, Langford &
Roe, 1998;Gardner & Pierce, 1998, 2001;Neal, 2000; Ragins et al., 2000; Riordan et al.,
2001; Stark et al., 2000;Tang & Gilbert, 1994, 1998;Van Dyne & Pierce, 2004) reveal a
positive relationship between OBSE and most facets of job satisfaction. Covin et al. (1992),
for example, found signiﬁcant relationships between OBSE and several dimensions of job
satisfaction (e.g., kind of work, supervision, pay, and general). Along similar lines, Bowden
(2002) observes a positive relationship between OBSE and feelings of personal fulﬁllment.
In sum, the correlation between OBSE and job satisfaction is a robust and substantial one
ranging between .23 and .70.
Several studies (e.g., Borycki et al., 1998; Covin et al., 1992;Gardner & Pierce, 1998,
2001;Holdnak, Clemons & Bushardt, 1990;Lee, 2003a;Phillips & Hall, 2001;Pierce et al.,
1989, 1993; Ragins et al., 2000; Riordan et al., 2001;Tang & Ibrahim, 1998;Tang, Kim,
et al., 2000;Tang, Singer & Roberts, 2000;Van Dyne & Pierce, 2004) report a signiﬁcant
and positive relationship between OBSE and commitment (with correlations ranging be-
tween .12 and .64). These ﬁndings suggest that employees with high levels of self-esteem
are more committed to their organizations than their low self-esteem counterparts. The
individual-organization relationship is also revealed by the degree to which the individual
comes to identify with the organization. Kark and her colleagues (Kark & Shamir, 2002;
Karket al.,2003;Shamir& Kark,2004) observedapositiverelationship betweenOBSE,and
organizational (i.e., work unit) identiﬁcation (r=.31) and personal (i.e., manager) identiﬁ-
cation (r=.37) among a sample of banking personnel. Bowden (2002) also observed a pos-
itive relationship between organization-based self-esteem and organizational identiﬁcation.
J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622 607
Adaptation to Organizational Change
One study focused on adaptation to organizational change among middle managers.
Staehle-Moody (1998) reports that those with high OBSE do a better job coping with
organizational change than their low OBSE counterparts, and that they are more proactive
in their coping style. This observation is also consistent with Brockner’s (1988) notions
about behavioral plasticity.
Turnover and Turnover Intentions
Several investigators looked at the relationship between OBSE, and employee turnover
cognitions (i.e., thinking of quitting, intentions to quit) and turnover behavior. Existing
evidence (e.g., Bowden, 2002;Gardner & Pierce, 2001;Matheson & Sterns, 1991;Phillips
& Hall, 2001;Riordan et al., 2001;Wei & Albright, 1998;Vecchio, 2000) reveals negative
relationshipsbetween OBSEand thinkingof quitting,turnoverintentions, andwith turnover.
It appears as though those organizational members who have come to believe that they are
important and organizationally competent don’t think about quitting, nor quit their jobs
with the same frequency as those employees who have come to believe that they are not an
“important part of this place.” These relationships typically range between r=−.24 and
Ethical Behavioral Intentions
Hsu and Kuo (2003) explored the relationship between organization-based self-esteem
andethicalbehavior intentions.Intheir studyofinformation systemsprofessionalsin Taiwan
they found OBSE to have a positive association with subjective norms regarding ethical
behavior (r=.51) and ethical intentions as they relate to information privacy (r=.23).
Feedback Seeking Behavior
Whilethe majority of researchon global self-esteem wouldsupport the predictionthat in-
dividuals with low OBSE would seek more feedback (Brockner, 1988), two dissimilar stud-
ies leave us with inconsistent observations. Van Dyne et al. (1990) hypothesized that high
self-esteemindividuals wouldactivelyengage in feedbackseeking behavior,usingfeedback
information as a resource to assist them in performing well – a strategy to maintain high per-
formance levels. They modiﬁed the OBSE measure to create a class- and university-based
measure of self-esteem, and observed a positive relationship (r=.25) between class-based
self-esteem(e.g., I countin thisclass) and feedbackseeking behavior.Madzar(2001),onthe
other hand, argued that a superior’s perceived leadership style (e.g., transformational and
transactional) affects the feedback seeking behaviors of his/her subordinates. She reasoned
that low self-esteem individuals, in need of approval and self-afﬁrmation, and in search
of self-diagnosticity will take advantage of the developmental support they receive from
transformational leaders. High self-esteem individuals, who are less behaviorally plastic,
are less inﬂuenced by the quality of their relationship with their supervisor and therefore
will be less likely to seek feedback. Studying a sample of medical technology employees
608 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
in the United States, she found OBSE to be negatively related to the degree of feedback
seeking behavior from transformational leaders (r=−.33). At this stage, it appears that
high OBSE employees will seek and use feedback as a strategy for maintaining high per-
formance (and high OBSE), while low OBSE employees will seek feedback when they
perceive opportunities to self-enhance (see Korman, 2001). Much more research is needed
to clarify the nature of the OBSE-feedback seeking relationship, however.
Organization-based self-esteem had signiﬁcant relationships with two organizational cit-
izenship behaviors, altruism and compliance (Tang & Ibrahim, 1998). Global self-esteem
failed to predict either citizenship behavior in a US sample, while OBSE accounted for
signiﬁcantly more criterion variance than global self-esteem in a Middle East sample.4
Chattopadhyay and George (2001) observed a positive relationship between OBSE and al-
truism in their study of employees in a computer manufacturer. Tang et al. (2002) examined
OBSE and citizenship behaviors with samples in the United States, Taiwan, Poland, and
Egypt. In both their US and non-US samples they found signiﬁcant and positive relation-
ship between OBSE and citizenship behavior. Chattopadhyay (1999) observed a positive
and signiﬁcant relationship between OBSE and altruism. Employing supervisor and peer
ratings of citizenship behavior, Van Dyne and Pierce (2004) report signiﬁcant relationships
between OBSE and citizenship behaviors. Lee (2003a) looked at ﬁve dimensions of citizen-
ship behavior (i.e., altruism, conscientiousness, courtesy, sportsmanship, and civic virtue)
and found signiﬁcant relationships between OBSE and acts of good organizational citizen-
ship. Tang, Singer, et al. (2000) investigated the effect that public (other serving) and private
(self-serving) motives on altruistic and conscientiousness acts of organizational citizenship,
and found a positive relationship between public motives and OBSE, and a negative rela-
tionship for private motives. They also report a positive relationship between OBSE and
both dimensions (altruism and conscientiousness) of citizenship behavior. Across this set of
studies OBSE correlated with citizenship behavior in the range between .23 for compliance
and .83 for altruism.
Performance at a high level is one manner through which high self-esteem individuals
can engage in behaviors that are consistent with and maintain their level of self-esteem,
and by which they can self-enhance In addition, it has been argued that high self-esteem
individuals are more likely to have stronger self-efﬁcacy than their low self-esteem coun-
terparts (Gardner & Pierce, 1998), which contributes to higher performance levels under
almost all role conditions (Bandura, 1997).
Pierce et al. (1989) observed a positive and signiﬁcant relation between OBSE and su-
pervisor ratings of employee performance in two of three organizations studied. Van Dyne
and Pierce (2003) also observed a positive relationship (r=.25) between OBSE and per-
formance. In addition, Pierce et al. (1993) observed an eight-month lagged correlation
(r=.21) between OBSE and supervisory ratings of performance, while Gardner et al.
(2000) observed a nine-month lagged correlation (r=.37) between OBSE and an annual
J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622 609
performance rating conducted by management of the host organization. Covin et al. (1992)
reportsigniﬁcant relationships between OBSEand twoindexes of performance(r=.23 and
.20 for a supervisor and self-rating, respectively), while Marion-Landais (2000) observed
that subordinates with high OBSE were rated as high performers in her study in Latin
American. Wiesenfeld et al. (2000) report a positive relationship (r=.47) between OBSE
and organizationally beneﬁcial managerial behaviors. Finally, Aryee et al. (2003) report a
positive relationship between OBSE and two dimensions of contextual performance (.25
for interpersonal facilitation and .33 for job dedication).
Carson et al. (1997, 1998) explored the relationship between OBSE and employee at-
titudes toward performance. Valuing and providing quality service was found to be more
important to a group of medical technicians with high OBSE than it was to their low OBSE
counterparts. There is fairly convincing evidence that OBSE is correlated with quality of
job performance (as has been found for global self-esteem; Judge & Bono, 2001). It should
be noted, however, that task success affects self-esteem initially, but over time self-esteem is
believedto sustaintask performance.Thus, thereis likely tobe reciprocalcausation between
OBSE and performance, with performance being the primary causative factor early in one’s
job/task experience and self-esteem coming to predominate with greater task experience.
Carson et al. (1997, 1998) predicted that OBSE would positively impact career com-
mitment, career satisfaction, career tenure, and have a negative relationship with career
withdrawal intentions. They report a signiﬁcant positive relationship between OBSE and
career commitment and a signiﬁcant negative relationship with career withdrawal inten-
tions. Ragins et al. (2000) also report observing a positive relationship between OBSE and
career commitment. Career identiﬁcation had a positive association with OBSE. Similar
results have been observed by Tang, Singer, et al. (2000) and Singer and Tang (1996). The
career-level outcomes typically correlated .23 (career identiﬁcation) to .52 (career commit-
ment) with OBSE.
Mullen (1998) reasoned that mentors who have a strong sense of OBSE would be con-
ﬁdent in their organizational role and with that which they have to share. Based upon data
from 151 mentor–protégé relationships Mullen (1998) found a signiﬁcant relationship be-
tweenmentor OBSE and bothmentoring functions. Aryee,Chay and Chew(1996) reasoned
that individuals with high OBSE will be motivated to engage in the mentoring role, as it
will provide them with the opportunity to demonstrate their organizational competence.
They hypothesized and observed a positive relationship (r=.24) between OBSE and the
motivation to mentor.
Based on these research results we conclude that self-esteem formed around work and
organizational experiences is associated with employee motivation, attitudes and behavior.
The literature reveals that organization-based self-esteem has positive relationship with in-
trinsic work motivation, job and career attitudes (e.g., satisfaction, organizational commit-
mentand identiﬁcation), behavioral intentions (e.g., turnoverand ethical), andconstructive
610 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
work-related behaviors (e.g., in- and extra-role performance, adaptation to change, reten-
OBSE as a Mediator
SeveralinvestigatorshaveusedOBSEto provideinsightinto howorwhycertain bi-variate
relationships unfold. In this section we will review this set of studies by ﬁrst looking at
those investigations that have reported on the relationship between organizational attributes
and individual-level outcomes, and second by looking at those that were focused on the
linkagebetween individualconstructs. In mostcases whatwe ﬁnd isthat OBSE willmediate
relationships between its hypothetical antecedents and consequences.
As discussed above, the ﬁndings from several investigations reveal that there is a posi-
tive relationship between perceptions of job complexity and OBSE. Lee (2003a) provides
us with additional insight into this relationship. Reasoning that work-related experiences
play a central role in deﬁning the individual’s relationship with the organization, he hy-
pothesized and found that OBSE mediates the job characteristic-citizenship behavior re-
lationship. Similarly, Abbott (2000) found support for the hypothesis that the increases in
job complexity that accompany the adoption of team-based systems leads to an increase
in employee self-esteem, which in turn leads to an increase in job satisfaction and team
Gardner et al. (2000) explored the relationship between pay level and employee perfor-
mance. They theorized that pay level is a form of communication that signals to employees
the degree to which the organization values them. This message, when internalized, be-
comes a part of the employee’s organization-based self-esteem, which in turn motivates the
employee to engage in behaviors that are consistent with the view of the self as organiza-
tionally competent, worthwhile, and valuable. They found evidence in support of the full
mediation of OBSE in the pay level-performance relationship.
On numerous occasions organizational scholars have called for an expanded role for
inﬂuence by organizational members, suggesting that greater levels of inﬂuence increases
member self-esteem and subsequently their commitment to the organization. Responding to
this call, Kostova et al. (1997) found that OBSE partially mediates the relationship between
members’ perceptions of their level of inﬂuence in the organization and their organizational
Two studies focused on treatment-related issues. Phillips (2000) suggested that OBSE
may provide insight into the process through which the effects of organizational support are
produced.She foundthat OBSE mediatedthe relationshipbetween perceivedorganizational
support, and job performance, and affective and continuance commitment. Riordan et al.
(2001)hypothesized andfound support forthe mediatingeffects ofOBSE inthe relationship
between an organization’s socialization practices and employee work-related attitudes.
Finally, Aryee et al. (2003) report that OBSE mediated the relationship between the
quality of the leader–follower relationship (LMX) and contextual performance. In their
J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622 611
study of a large Indian consumer and home appliance manufacturer they observed full
mediation of OBSE.
Gardner and Pierce (1998) focused their study on self-esteem and self-efﬁcacy and their
respective roles in inﬂuencing employee attitudes and behavior. They reasoned that indi-
viduals who believe that they are likely to succeed on a wide variety of organizational tasks
(high generalized self-efﬁcacy) are likely to view themselves as individuals with a sense
of personal adequacy as organizational members (organization-based self-esteem). Thus,
they hypothesized generalized self-efﬁcacy to be causally antecedent to OBSE, and that
high levels of self-esteem would then lead to positive attitudes towards the organization,
and continued successful task performance (especially when combined with high levels of
Employing eight-month lagged data with self-reports on self-esteem and self-efﬁcacy at
time-one and supervisor-rated performance data collected at time-two, Gardner and Pierce
(1998) found that OBSE was the strongest predictor of employee performance ratings and
of job satisfaction. In addition, they report observing full mediation effects for OBSE in the
relationship between generalized self-efﬁcacy and both employee responses. Gardner and
Pierce(2001) conducted apartial replicationand extensionof their earlierstudy.They report
ﬁnding a positive relationship between OBSE and generalized self-efﬁcacy, satisfaction,
commitment, and a negative relationship with intent to quit. Consistent with the study
hypotheses, OBSE emerged as the stronger self-concept in predicting employee responses.
In addition, there is some evidence to suggest that OBSE operates as a complete mediator
of generalized self-efﬁcacy-employee response relationships.
In their exploration of the role of individual differences as antecedents of citizenship
behaviors, Van Dyne et al. (2000) examined the likelihood that propensity to trust, collec-
tivism, and OBSE play a meaningful role in the promotion of social exchanges. Van Dyne
et al. proposed and found that OBSE would mediate the relationship between trust and
helping behavior, and the relationship between collectivism and helping. Both propensity
to trust and collectivism had a fully mediated effect on helping organizational citizenship
behaviors operating through OBSE.
Heck, Bedeian, and Day (in press) investigated workplace whining. They developed
a framework that positioned OBSE as mediating the effects of dispositional (i.e., negative
affectivity),attitudinal(e.g.,job satisfaction),relational(i.e., leader–memberexchange),and
behavioral (i.e., supervisory performance ratings) antecedents of workplace whining. They
foundsupport for thefull mediational effectsof OBSEin each ofthe proposed relationships,
with the exception of partial mediation in the case of performance. They conclude that
“whiners are generally individuals who typically hold a negative view of themselves and
the world, ﬁnd little satisfaction in their jobs ... and as rated by their supervisors, perform
poorly in their jobs” (2001: 21).
Wiesenfeld et al. (2000) provide additional insight into the explanatory role played by
OBSEinour understandingofthe individual-organizationalrelationship.Theyhypothesized
that OBSE would mediate the relationship between perceptions of procedural fairness in
the handling of layoffs in a downsizing context and the behaviors needed from managers
612 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
in times of major organizational change. They found support for full mediation. Adding
OBSE to the regression model eliminated the signiﬁcant relationship between perceived
fairness and managerial behaviors.
From this group of research ﬁndings we conclude that OBSE will often act as a mediator
betweencertain individual andorganizational characteristics onthe one hand,and the estab-
lishedconsequences of OBSE(motivation, jobattitudes, andperformance) on theother. The
three major sources of self-esteem (e.g., work environment structure) will have effects on
otherimportant organizationalphenomena (e.g.,satisfaction, performance)through their ef-
fects on OBSE. While none of these studies employed an experimental design, the evidence
reviewed leads us to tentatively conclude that organization-based self-esteem mediates the
relationships between the antecedent variables of work environment structure (e.g., inﬂu-
ence, job complexity), organizational signals of personal value (e.g., pay level, fairness,
perceived organizational support), successful work experiences (e.g., efﬁcacy, performance
ratings), and dispositional states (e.g., negative affectivity), and the consequent variables of
employeemotivation, attitudes (e.g.,satisfaction, commitment),and work-relatedbehaviors
(e.g., in- and extra-role performance).
OBSE as a Moderator
Several investigators have examined the moderating effects of OBSE. In most cases we
ﬁndthat OBSEmoderates therelationships between twoother variablessuchthat lowOBSE
individuals are more reactive to environmental cues than high OBSE people.
Twoinvestigations(Jex &Elacqua,1999;Pierce etal., 1993)lookedat therole conditions-
outcome relationship. Pierce et al. (1993) found signiﬁcant interaction effects between
OBSE and role ambiguity, conﬂict, overload, work environment support, and supervisory
support on achievement satisfaction. Signiﬁcant interaction effects between OBSE and
role ambiguity, work environment support, and supervisory support were also found for
supervisory performance ratings. High OBSE employees were unaffected by these role
conditionsrelativeto theirlowOBSE counterparts.Jexand Elacqua(1999) alsolooked atthe
rolecondition-outcome relationship. Theyobserved signiﬁcantmoderating effectsof OBSE
inthe relationship betweenrole ambiguityand twostress outcomes: depressionand physical
strain symptoms. They also observed moderating effects in the relationship between role
conﬂictand physical symptoms ofstress, providing furthersupport for behavioralplasticity.
Stark et al.’s (2000) investigation was focused on the effects of organizational change
(downsizing and reengineering) on job satisfaction. They hypothesized that OBSE would
moderate this relationship, and found that high self-esteem employees were more likely
to report job satisfaction than their low self-esteem counterparts. Similarly, Hui and Lee
(2000) found that employees with high levels of OBSE were less responsive to perceptions
of uncertainty than their low self-esteem counterparts.
Brutus, Ruderman, Ohlott and McCauley (2000) explored the question – Does OBSE
inﬂuence how managers respond to various degrees of job challenge? Based upon the
heightened sensitivity of the low self-esteem individual, they proposed that OBSE would
moderate the relationship between job challenge and individual development. They found
thatas job challengeincreased, lowOBSE managers sawmore personal development,while
J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622 613
high OBSE managers reported feeling personal development irrespective of the degree of
challenge present in their jobs.
Researchers interested in organizational justice have focused their attention on factors
which inﬂuence perceptions of procedural justice. The extent to which people are allowed
to provide input into the decision making process, often referred to as voice, is one of those
factors. Brockner, Heuer, Siegel, Wiesenfeld, Martin & Grover (1998) bring together the
results from ﬁve studies which test the hypothesis that higher levels of voice are likely to
elicit more positive reactions from people who have relatively high levels of self-esteem.
Self-esteem is believed to moderate this relationship because people who have high OBSE
aremore likely tobelieve thattheir perspectivesare correct andthat their actionswill make a
difference (reinforcing their OBSE). After observing medical doctors in Iceland they found
a signiﬁcant relationship between OBSE and organizational identiﬁcation, and support
for the moderating effects of OBSE in the voice-organizational identiﬁcation relationship.
Therewas a signiﬁcantrelationship between voiceand organizationalidentiﬁcation for high
self-esteem doctors, and no relationship among participants with low self-esteem.
Our review of the literature on the role of self-esteem formed around work and organi-
zational experiences also provides us with evidence basically supporting behavioral plas-
ticity theory (Brockner, 1988) predictions. Organization-based self-esteem moderates the
relationships between several role conditions (e.g., change, role ambiguity) and employee
responses to those conditions such that low OBSE individuals are typically more reactive
than high OBSE individuals.
Summary and Discussion
The purpose of this paper was to provide a review of more than a decade ofresearch fo-
cused on organization-based self-esteem. The evidence from our review of more than four
dozen empirical studies supports the claim that an individual’s self-esteem, formed around
work and organizational experiences, as reﬂected by organization-based self-esteem, may
well play a signiﬁcant role in shaping employee intrinsic motivation, work-related attitudes
(e.g., turnover intentions, job satisfaction, organizational commitment) and behaviors (e.g.,
performance, citizenship behavior, turnover). In addition, the evidence reviewed supports
the claim that work environment structures that provide opportunities for the exercise of
self-direction and self-control may promote organization-based self-esteem. Signals to em-
ployees that they “make a difference around here” and that that difference is valued by the
organization are positively related to this self-concept. Organization-based opportunities
for positive and successful experiences were also found to have a positive relationship with
OBSE. Finally, we note that organizational size, adverse role conditions (e.g., role ambigu-
ity), anticipated organizational change, job insecurity, discrimination and harassment were
found to have a negative relationship with OBSE. Each can be seen as having the capacity
to undermine experiences of self-worth within the organizational context.
While the literature reviewed provides evidence into what might be the determinants and
consequencesof OBSE, itis importantto recognize thatnone ofthe studies weredesigned to
testKorman’s(1970,1971, 1976)theorizing ontheorigins ofself-esteem,nor theroleplayed
by self-consistency, self-enhancement, or self-protection motivation. With few exceptions
614 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
(Brockneret al.,1998; Pierceet al.,1989; Van Dyneet al.,1990), theinvestigationsreviewed
wereﬁeld studies. Virtually allof the studiesrely uponcross-sectional data andcorrelational
designs, though a few (e.g., Gardner et al., 2000; Pierce et al., 1993; Riordan et al., 2001;
Taylor & Pierce, 1999;Van Dyne et al., 2000) employed lagged data and a correlational
design. The majority of published works report OBSE relationships that are based upon
percept-percept data, while only a few studies (e.g., Gardner & Pierce, 1998;Gardner et al.,
2000;Van Dyne & Pierce, 2003, 2004) report relationships between self-report OBSE data
and different source data for the second variable (e.g., supervisor performance ratings, peer
ratings of citizenship behavior). All of this limits the degree to which we can infer causality.
Even with these limitations, a relatively consistent pattern of observations has begun to
emerge,providingsome understandingof OBSE withinthe workandorganizational context.
There is, however, a need to replicate these ﬁndings with more robust research designs that
allow stronger conclusions about causality.
Directions for Future Research
Asa result ofthe research conducted to-date,we havelearned a greatdeal about organiza-
tion-basedself-esteem, itsmeasurementand rolewithinthe workand organizationalcontext.
This leads to the question – Where else might research on OBSE fruitfully expand so it
continues to contribute to our knowledge about organizational behavior? We brieﬂy offer
several suggestions in this section.
Measurement and continued construct validation. None of the studies reviewed and
published subsequent to Pierce et al’s. (1989) initial construct validation work had as its
primary focus the construct validation of the OBSE instrument. After conducting this re-
view, we note that there are several validation questions that remain unanswered.5First and
as previously noted, more research is needed in an effort to identify the boundary conditions
that affect the emergence and operation of OBSE across cultures (Sedikides et al., 2003).
Second, additional evidence pertaining to convergent validity is needed – How does OBSE
relate to measures of self-esteem, self-assurance, and other self-concept related constructs?
Third,it isimportant toask ifrelationships between OBSEand performance(as wellas other
outcomes) can be attributed to other personality variables (e.g., need for achievement, com-
petence), or more proximal constructs such as expectancy and instrumentality perceptions?
Fourth, it is important for us to understand the extent to which observed relationships can be
attributedto commonmethod/common sourcevariance. Fifth,researchers (seeWylie,1979)
have raised questions as to whether global self-esteem is unidimensional. It would be im-
portant to conceptually and empirically examine the dimensionality of organization-based
self-esteem in order to ascertain whether it is uni- or multi-dimensional in nature. It may
be that there are task-(performance) and maintenance- (non-performance) based feelings
of competence and organizational worthiness. Sixth, given the highly skewed distributions
typically found in the measurement of OBSE (i.e., high averages), it is important to ask
if this is a function of the samples studied or an idiosyncracy of the instrument per se –
we should question whether or not the instrument can consistently detect individuals with
extremely low levels of organization-based self-esteem as well as high (more about this will
be discussed below).
J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622 615
Self-regulatory mechanisms. As noted as a part of our discussion of OBSE theory
there are at least four self-regulatory mechanisms (i.e., self-consistency, self-enhancement,
self-protection, and behavioral plasticity) that have been employed to explain the moti-
vational effects of self-esteem. While we have found some support for plasticity theory,
the same is not true for the other three mechanisms. We note that the differences be-
tween self-consistency and self-enhancement are subtle, as they make many of the same
predictions. The work reviewed here does not inform our understanding in any system-
atic manner about these two theories, and as a consequence we cannot offer any ﬁrm
conclusions about them at this point in time. We also note that none of the studies of
OBSE attempted to explicitly test self-protection motivation. It remains unclear (for both
global and OBSE) what the exact mechanisms are and the time associated with the oper-
ation of these mechanisms by which self-esteem has its effects. Future research in basic
and applied psychology should continue to not only clarify when each motive is likely to
be stimulated, but also their roles in the OBSE-outcome relationship and associated time
OBSE from a dynamics perspective. While our review has focused exclusively upon
organization-based self-esteem, its effects are not be isolated. We now envision that an
individual’score self-evaluations(Judge &Bono, 2001),which includes globalself-esteem,
play a signiﬁcant role in shaping career, organization and job choices. These choices tend
to be consistent with the individual’s sense of self (Korman, 1976).
Once inside the organization the new employee begins to accumulate a number of expe-
riences (structures, messages from important others, and successes/failures) which start to
shapethe individual’sorganization-based self-esteem. Atﬁrst this aspectof the self-concept
is unstable, an outer level conceptualization of the self (Campbell, 1990), that over time
becomes increasingly trait-like – quite stable and resistant to change At this stage, a stable
OBSE serves to mediate (e.g., job complexity-performance) and moderate (e.g., adverse
role condition-attitude/performance) different organizational experience-outcome relation-
ships. Taken in isolation of its cause, OBSE may well be employed as a predictor (possibly
the ‘cause’) of a number of organizationally important behavioral intentions (e.g., intention
to quit), attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction), motivation (e.g., intrinsic work motivation), and
behaviors (e.g., acts of good organizational citizenship).
Future research should also provide us with a longitudinal perspective on the emergence
of OBSE among new employees and those employees who ﬁnd themselves exposed to
new and changing work and organizational conditions. It is unlikely that employees en-
ter an organization as a ‘blank slate.’6Based upon OBSE’s consistent relationship with
global self-esteem and generalized self-efﬁcacy, for example, we would expect individuals
high on those two variables would be more likely to develop high OBSE than low global
self-esteem/low generalized self-efﬁcacy individuals. In the same sense, we would expect
that individuals who have developed high levels of OBSE in one organizational context will
generalize that belief system to new organizational contexts, at least initially. Ultimately
such knowledge about OBSE potential (or predisposition) might prove useful in human
resource selection systems.
Regarding the development of OBSE, we know nothing about the time element in-
volved. Hopefully future work will not only elucidate the time element that is related to the
616 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
emergence of OBSE, but also to changes in OBSE that accompany evolutionary and revo-
lutionary changes in its organizational antecedents.
Personality traits. At the outset of our review of the antecedents of organization-based
self-esteem, we asked – What has research taught us about the person who develops a
strong and positive organization-based self-esteem? While some insight into this question
can be gleaned from the studies conducted, no work was found that built and tested theory
addressing personality and OBSE per se. We believe that such research is important and
we offer some suggestions for future research in this area.
Judge and co-workers (Erez & Judge, 2001;Judge & Bono, 2001) have in recent years
written about the centrality of self-esteem to employee motivation and satisfaction. Self-
esteem, along with locus of control, emotional stability, and generalized self-efﬁcacy have
substantial and consistent effects on employee performance and satisfaction. The vast ma-
jorityof theresearch reviewedinthisarticle maybe consideredto befurther supportforthese
basic premises and their corollaries (e.g., commitment as the dependent variable instead
of job satisfaction), yet with a focus on organization-based instead of global self-esteem
effects. In addition, we believe that more research needs to be done which examines the
incremental value of these other dispositions (e.g., locus of control) over and above the ef-
fects of self-esteem (though see Erez & Judge, 2001). The previously reviewed research by
Gardner and Pierce (1998, 2001) calls into question the value of generalized self-efﬁcacy as
one of the “four horsemen” of human motivation. We also believe that it would be beneﬁcial
to examine OBSE in relation to the Big Five.
Related to personality-OBSE research, Baumeister, Smart and Boden (1996) write that
there are, in reality, two types of people who score high on self-esteem scales. One is the
individual who has, over time, developed a healthy and stable level of self-esteem. The
other is a person who professes to have high levels of self-liking and self-competence, but
whoseself-beliefs arein factunstable and maybeeveninﬂated. Thistype of highself-esteem
scorer is one who has been variously called an egotist (Baumeister et al., 1996), a narcissist
(Baumeister, 1999), and one who posses false self-esteem (Locke, 1976). Baumeister is
quite blunt in describing the narcissist: “Narcissism may thus capture an important segment
of people with high self-esteem, indeed, the more nasty, conceited sort. Narcissism refers to
atendency toregardoneself assuperior toothers andtoexpect otherpeople totreat oneselfas
superior”(1999: 220). The consequences associated with the two types of high self-esteem
people are quite dramatic. Whereas genuine high self-esteem people are comfortable with
themselves and engage in constructive, self-enhancing behaviors, narcissists do not and
may in fact be quite aggressive towards anyone who questions or threatens their high
It is possible, therefore, that high OBSE scorers may include both the genuine and the
false self-esteem types (i.e., not all high scorers truly think they “make a difference around
here” but want to believe it is so). It may be worthwhile exploring new operationaliza-
tions of OBSE, in an attempt to separate these different types of people. Teasing out the
false from the genuine self-esteem may be a difﬁcult task. Distinguishing between the
two groups of high self-esteem individuals may require moving beyond self-reports, pos-
sibly soliciting of validating evaluations of competence from knowledgeable others, or
perhaps through the use of projective techniques (like the Thematic Apperception Test).
J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622 617
Alternatively, separate measures of narcissism could be used in conjunction with any
self-esteemresearch, thevariance ofwhich couldbe partialledout ofsubstantiveself-esteem
It is clear that OBSE has demonstrated its empirical utility in research on a broad
range of constructs in the organizational sciences. At this point we can conclude that
self-esteem, both global (Rosenberg, Schooler, Schoenbach & Rosenberg, 1995) as well as
organization-based (Pierce et al., 1989) plays a central role in the direction and motivation
ofhuman behaviors. Whatremains unclear arethe exactmechanisms (e.g., self-consistency,
self-enhancement)and the timeassociated withthe operationof these mechanismsby which
self-esteem has its effects. Just as importantly, the organizational policies, programs, and
procedures that lead to the healthy development of employee self-esteem require further
study. Though some ground-breaking work in this area has been completed (e.g., Gardner
etal., 2000) much moreneeds to be donein real workorganizations. Wealso believethat the
OBSE scale can safely be used to branch out into a number of new areas of organizational
1. We have attempted to identify and include as a part of this review all of the studies
that have been published that included the measurement of OBSE.
2. It is important to note that Korman’s (1970, 1971, 1976) theorizing on the origins of
self-esteem has not been directly examined. The scheme that we employ to organize
the vast number of studies is quite crude in nature.
3. We thank an anonymous reviewer for pointing this out.
4. While preliminary in nature, there are several instances (cf. Chattopadhyay & George,
2001;Rosenberg, Schooler, Schoenback, & Rosenberg, 1995; Song & Hattie, 1985)
where measures of self-esteem that are operationalized at the same level of analy-
sis as its correlate have a stronger and more consistent relationship than observed
with measures of global self-esteem. In the initial construct validation studies (Pierce
et al., 1989), OBSE was shown to be a better predictor of other organization-related
measures than either global or task self-esteem.
5. We wish to thank an anonymous reviewer for bringing to our attention these questions,
along with insight into the dynamics associated with the emergence of OBSE.
6. We thank an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion.
We would like to express our appreciation to Elena Vassilieva for her assistance with our
618 J.L. Pierce, D.G. Gardner /Journal of Management 2004 30(5) 591–622
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Jon L. Pierceis Professorof Organizationand Managementat the UniversityofMinnesota
Duluth.Hereceivedhis Ph.D.fromthe UniversityofWisconsin.Hiscurrent researchfocuses
on the psychological relationships that connect individuals with organizations in general
and psychological ownership in particular, and the self within the work and organizational
Donald G. Gardner (Ph.D. Purdue University) is Professor of Management and Organiza-
tionat the Universityof Colorado-Colorado Springs.He has also heldvisiting appointments
at the University of Wisconsin, the Australian Graduate School of Management, and James
Cook University. He conducts research on employee attitudes, motivation and behaviors,
performance appraisals, and construct validation. His research publications have appeared
insuch journals as theAcademy of ManagementJournal,Groupand Organization Manage-
ment,Journal of Applied Psychology,Organizational Behavior and Human Performance,
and Research in Organizational Behavior.