Managing imposter syndrome in the workplace

Managing imposter syndrome in the workplace

How leading by example and creating a culture of openness can support your employees and help manage their imposter syndrome.

By Kielan Tayler, Lead Facilitator and Executive Coach.

A 2022 survey of 2,500 UK workers shows that 58 per cent of workers experience imposter syndrome. The report from global job site Indeed, revealed women are nearly twice as likely as men to frequently or always experience imposter syndrome (21 per cent vs 12 per cent), and millennials are the age group most affected (27 per cent). As much as 30 per cent of high achievers and at least 70 per cent of adults may experience imposter syndrome at least once in their lifetime. The report also highlighted the lack of support for mental health issues in the workplace.

Imposter syndrome is when you doubt your abilities and feel like a fraud. It is a feeling of inadequacy regardless of your expertise and experience. People with imposter syndrome feel that they are not as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them.

In this article, we will look at how to recognise imposter syndrome, the personality types that are prone to it, and how firms can help employees to deal with and overcome imposter syndrome. Our Advance programme for Aspiring Women Leaders has a module dedicated exclusively to imposter syndrome and how women can deal with it and overcome it.

How to recognise imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome can make you feel incompetent, and that success is impossible, regardless of any accolades you may have achieved. If you have imposter syndrome you are ruled by fear, fear of not meeting another person’s expectations, and you consider past success and hard work to be a result of good luck rather than expertise.

Symptoms of imposter syndrome include:

  • Lack of self-confidence at work.
  • Self-doubt in your skills and competence.
  • Sensitivity of small mistakes.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Fear of failing your colleagues.
  • Burnout from working too hard or overworking.
  • Crediting external factors—like luck—for your success.
  • Feeling isolated from team members.
  • Setting impossibly high standards for yourself.

Imposter syndrome can have implications in other areas of life as well and people who suffer from it may be at increased risk of anxiety and burnout. If someone calls attention to your success, it can trigger feelings of imposter syndrome. This could happen if you receive an award, pass an exam, or get promoted. Failure after a string of successes can also cause you to critique and question your overall aptitude and abilities.

What are the typical traits of someone with imposter syndrome?

Personality traits largely drive the causes of imposter syndrome. If you experience imposter syndrome you struggle with self-efficacy, perfectionism, and neuroticism. Competitive environments also impact how the effects manifest themselves. One school of thought suggests that you develop feelings of imposter syndrome if you faced intense pressure about academic achievement from your parents in childhood.

Here are 5 common types of ‘personalities’ that are prone to imposter syndrome:

  1. If you are more focused on being a perfectionist and your focus is on ‘how’ you do something rather than the result and if, and when, you receive praise, you think you could have done better, then you are prone to experiencing imposter syndrome.
  2. If you consider yourself an expert and you are more concerned with what and how much you know or can do, you are susceptible to imposter syndrome, particularly if you lack knowledge in a particular area. Falling short of your own expectations or your perceived expectations others might have of you, can bring about feelings of failure or shame.
  3. On the other hand, if you are a natural genius and you measure your competence and output based on how easily or quickly you deliver, you risk feeling like a failure or are prone to imposter syndrome if you do not understand or perform successfully the first time.
  4. Have you ever heard yourself say ‘it will be quicker to do it myself’? If you are a soloist, you are more focused on “who” does a task. You are an imposter if you think you must do everything on your own and if you ask for help it is a sign of weakness.
  5. You (think) you are superhuman if you measure your success by how you juggle and master multiple roles, and if you fall short in some, your sense of guilt and shame paves the way for your imposter syndrome to take over.

How to overcome imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome can limit your potential for growth and can prevent you from pursuing new opportunities for growth, whether at work or in your personal life. The best way to overcome imposter syndrome is to:

  • Reflect on your concrete achievements and recognise your own expertise.
  • Talk about it and share your feelings with someone you trust (outside of work).
  • Do not compare yourself with anyone and expect to make mistakes, be gentle with yourself if you do and learn from it.
  • Seek out support, a mentor, or someone who has charted a similar path.
  • Do not put pressure on yourself to complete everything flawlessly. Be human sometimes.

Remind yourself constantly that you are not perfect and that you do not need to be, and that you onlyneed to do your best. Break the cycle of excessive pressure that only you place on yourself and reward yourself daily for the smallest triumphs.

How firms can help employees overcome imposter syndrome

The most effective approach employers can take to deal with imposter syndrome is to create a culture of openness and support through:

  • Regular training and development opportunities: If employees feel equipped with new skills and knowledge, they may feel more confident in their abilities and are less likely to experience imposter syndrome.
  • A culture that encourages open communication: Provide an open and honest environment where employees can discuss imposter syndrome without prejudice or shame.
  • Adopting a growth mindset: Employees who believe that their abilities can be developed through effort and learning are less likely to experience imposter syndrome.
  • Recognising and rewarding successes: Employees who feel acknowledged for their accomplishments are more likely to feel confident in their abilities and less likely to experience imposter syndrome.
  • A culture of support: Providing resources such as counselling services, employee assistance programs, or mental health support groups will help employees to become more resilient. Encouraging employees to take breaks and holidays, acknowledging, and applauding employees’ accomplishments, and fostering psychological safety.

And finally, the most important way to deal with imposter syndrome is to:

Lead by example: Senior leaders should model healthy coping strategies and open communication about mental health to create a safe and supportive culture.

Employers have the resources and budget at their disposal that they can invest in coaching to help staff who struggle with imposter syndrome. This personal development will not only improve the personal aspects of their lives, but it will also lead to greater professional development more well-rounded, productive employees, and a more positive working environment.

If you want to know more about how coaching can help your employees deal with and overcome imposter syndrome, then get in touch with us.

If you are interested in how your aspiring women leaders can deal with imposter syndrome, then find out more about our Advance programme here.