4 Psychological Obstacles to Personal Growth and Employee Engagement

Do You Regularly Feel Challenged and Stretched?

There is a strong link between personal growth and employee engagement. Growing in our jobs doesn’t always mean getting a promotion or a raise; these are components of satisfaction. Growth is about mastering new skills, taking on challenges, and pushing to be better—both professionally and personally.


But many employees don’t find their work challenging enough to keep them engaged. Imagine the untapped potential! On the other hand, stretching, taken to the extreme, can result in unhealthy stress. Growth strikes the balance between boredom and burnout.


It seems like everyone would and should want to grow and become a better person, but some people simply don’t see the need for growth.


The fact is most of us are just not very good at assessing our own need for growth. We’re all a little deluded when it comes to looking in the mirror and seeing our shortcomings.

There have been some notable psychological theories about why some of us resolutely refuse to pursue opportunities that will make us better, more skilled, and more successful:

  1. The Lake Wobegon effect (funny name, serious theory): This is the tendency to overrate our own abilities in relation to other people. Simply put, it states we think we’re better than we are. We don’t grow because we already think we’ve arrived.
  2. Positive illusion: This is the tendency to overestimate one’s positive qualities and capabilities while underestimating one’s negative qualities.
  3. American Idol Syndrome: This theory states that we surround ourselves with people who support and reinforce our self-concept. We avoid potential criticism by creating a circle of people who tell us only what we want to hear.
  4. The Dunning-Kruger effect: In this cognitive bias that’s become much more common (thanks to the narcissus reflecting pool that is the Internet), unskilled individuals mistakenly believe their ability to be much higher than it actually is. One just has to look at the YouTube videos and selfies to see what some people think of their own ability.

Our research on over-raters supports this. We conduct thousands of 360-degree feedback surveys. The individual is presented with information about his or her performance and behaviors as seen through the eyes of others. The individual rates himself/herself on the same criteria that others rate them on. When the raters are compared, 78 percent of managers score themselves higher than others score them. What does this show? Well, it means we are typically poor at seeing our own areas for growth.


Managers need to help and guide employees to help them grow. Given consistent opportunities to grow, along with the support they need, most people will engage. Denied those opportunities, people disengage, become apathetic, and leave.