What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome has been discussed in detail in the UK with famous people including Tom Hanks, Michelle Obama, and Lupita Nyong’o admitting they suffer from it. In fact, an estimated 70% of people experience these feelings at some point in their lives, according to the International Journal of Behavioral Science.

Read on to find out what Imposter Syndrome is, what you can do as an employer and for some tips on how you can overcome imposter syndrome.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is intense feelings of self-doubt, particularly in your career. It’s the inability to accept your accomplishments. The most common belief is that you feel you do not deserve your job or recognition, usually owing your successes and achievements to luck; believing that you’re a fraud and will be found out soon.

“You don’t know what you’re doing.”

“They are going to catch you out.”

“You’re a failure.”

The term originally comes from a study conducted in 1978 by Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes of Georgia State University, titled “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”. They now have stated that both men and women are affected and that it should be referred to as “Imposter Experience,” since it’s not a clinical diagnosis or mental illness, but rather a temporary state of being.

What effect does Imposter Syndrome have at work? 

Imposter Syndrome can affect people’s well-being in general and the feelings of self-doubt can result in withdrawal at work. This could be not speaking up in meetings, not suggesting new or alternative ideas at work, and leaving or remaining stagnant in their role.

It could mean that your high achievers procrastinate or even over-prepare, where they work even harder to make sure they are ready, which could eventually lead to burnout. It could also mean that there is a reluctance to put themselves forward for opportunities.

As an employer, it’s important to make sure you always encourage a supportive environment with a focus on people’s emotional well-being, whether that’s regular training for managers on how to work with different personality types or clear communication on who people can speak to if they need to.

A study revealed that a third of millennials have Imposter Syndrome due to feeling intimidated in the workplace. Just under two thirds (63%) felt their lack of confidence had a negative effect on their career which highlights the importance of a supportive office.

How to overcome Imposter Syndrome:

If you struggle with Imposter Syndrome, there are ways you can try and silence it:

  • Keep a list of your achievements and strengths somewhere you can see it. If you believe you have nothing to add on there (you definitely do), ask a friend, manager or colleague to help you. Every time you receive good feedback, add this on there too.
  • Talk about it. A lot of people don’t talk about these feelings but by speaking to your manager or a friend or colleague about it, you will more than likely realise you are not alone in struggling with Imposter Syndrome.
  • Create a ‘For and Against Argument’ (hear us out) This is a recommended Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) technique if you suffer with anxiety that can help tackle imposter thoughts. When you start feeling like a fraud, write down that thought and then challenge it. For example:
    “They are going to find out I’m not good at my job.”
    Argument For: It takes me a long time to prepare a presentation.
    Argument Against: You wouldn’t be in this position if someone didn’t think you could do it. List your qualifications and achievements. Preparation is a good thing.

You’ll notice that any ‘For’ argument created would not be factual and is just your inner critic.

There is no guaranteed way to combat Imposter Syndrome, so pick and choose different techniques that work for you. Whilst you may never stop having the thoughts, you can control how you handle them.

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We surveyed our global audiences to find out their experiences in the workplace for our Women in the Workplace report and Imposter Syndrome and its effect is discussed in detail. Check out the full report here!

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