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Impostor Syndrome at Work: What Should Employers do?

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​It’s estimated that 70% of people will experience impostor syndrome at some point in their lives. Impostor syndrome – also known as impostor phenomenon or impostorism. It is associated with several negative outcomes in the workplace, including poor mental wellbeing. By understanding what impostor syndrome is and how it can be tackled, employers can help reduce its incidence.

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is felt as pervasive self-doubt, insecurity and the unshakeable belief that your achievements and successes are due to luck rather than any innate or learned abilities and knowledge. People suffering from impostor syndrome often dread being ‘discovered as a fraud’. Whereby other people ‘realise’ their achievements to date have been solely driven by external factors.

Feeling like an imposter or fraud can have very negative effects on your career. It can decrease your drive, motivation, productivity, and effectiveness at work. It can lead to stressed work relationships, burnout, anxiety, and emotional exhaustion; all things you want to avoid when building a career.

We’ve put together some practices to help employers overcome and eliminate imposter syndrome if it pops its ugly head with your staff.

Impostor Syndrome at Work: What Should Employers do?

1.       Focus on an Inclusion Strategy

Since external validation is an overriding need in those suffering from impostor syndrome, not feeling included and accepted in the workplace. External signs of non-approval – can make the problem worse. This may be particularly true for minority groups in the workplace. This is why inclusion strategies are so important. Boosting feelings of group identity improves self-esteem and perceptions of self-efficacy, which helps people feel more comfortable with their strengths and weaknesses. This is essential in order to successfully attribute work wins to individuals hard work and abilities.

2.       Tackle Illusions in Your Industry

Every company has problems with preconceived illusions or thoughts about the particular industry they operate in and the organisation’s culture can either heighten them or tackle them. HR’s role is in encouraging managers (and supporting them with tools and knowledge) to cut across established norms to create healthier expectations in the workplace.

3.       Encourage Employees to Realistically Attribute Successes

Many organisations now regularly acknowledge hard work publicly on social media and their websites as a way to boost motivation, wellbeing and productivity. This public acknowledgement can help individuals begin practicing a core strategy for tackling impostor syndrome and allow them to realise that they are part of the team, and their presence is needed and appreciated. A word of advice there though, don't just post and acknowledgement to social media for the sake of it. Take the time to think about how the particular employee contributed to the team and/or a successful project. Your words will mean so much more and have more impact if they are specific about a particular task or achievement the individual has made.

4.       Educate and Inform

There are clear thought patterns and limiting beliefs that occur frequently in those who suffer from impostor syndrome. Feeling alone and feeling like you’re ‘wearing a mask,’ for example, are common. Helping individuals reframe these beliefs can help massively. By just finding out more about impostor syndrome and learning that others experience the same anxiety and behaviour patterns can give relief to sufferers.

Education is a core part of an employer’s toolkit. Put posters up around the office or run an ‘awareness week’ for impostor syndrome but also always give people the chance to find out more information privately. Impostor syndrome is often characterised by high levels of shame, meaning sufferers are less likely to proactively seek help and advice around the issue.

5.       Help Staff Connect with their Internal Motivators

Line managers are best placed to help staff, through close coaching and relationship-building. The more that line managers understand their direct reports, the more they’re able to help them create alignment between their job and their internal motivators. Tackling impostor syndrome in the workplace can help improve overall mental wellbeing of the workforce as well as improving motivation and idea sharing.

Control your imposter syndrome once and for all !

If you or your staff feel like you’re suffering from impostor syndrome, know that millions of people around the world also have these feelings. Remember that there are ways to help curb these negative feelings in a healthy and proactive way. Whether you’re concerned about your progress or those around you, we hope that our tips and best practices can help you eliminate imposter syndrome in your workplace. 

If you’re ready to take the next leap in your career, check out our open roles or feel free to contact us directly!