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How To Help Employees Deal With The Imposter Syndrome

Creating an environment in the workplace where everyone feels confident in their abilities can be difficult. This is especially true if your workforce are dealing with symptoms of imposter syndrome at work.

Imposter syndrome can impact people in any position, leaving them feeling low in mood and confidence. In fact, a YouGov survey revealed that 57% of people criticised themselves more than others do, while 56% tended to downplay their achievements. These feelings and perceptions are a major contributor to imposter syndrome at work.

However, there are simple steps you can take, and preventative measures you can implement, to help people deal with imposter syndrome at work.

What is imposter syndrome at work?

While imposter syndrome can occur at any time, whether it be within the office or at home, it is more common for people to experience imposter syndrome in a new job or following a promotion.

Something of a behavioural phenomenon, imposter syndrome is when you start doubting your intellect or skills, which can severely impact your confidence levels. It is most common among high-achievers who question whether they have earned or even deserve success for their work.

For example, you could feel like you’re not progressing as quickly as you’d like or you’re out of your depth in a new team. Imposter syndrome at work can even occur when you’ve been in the same role for years. A new member could join the team and start questioning your ways of working or you might make a small mistake and feel very unsettled all of a sudden.

When it comes to your workforce, imposter syndrome can cause the following mental health symptoms:

  • Low mood.

  • Inadequacy.

  • Anxiety.

  • Sensitivity.

  • Burnout.

When people are struggling with the symptoms of imposter syndrome at work, it can make even the most basic of tasks difficult to complete. For example, imposter syndrome at work can make decision-making feel overwhelming, so people might begin to procrastinate.

However, imposter syndrome at work can have an impact on other measurable performance indicators too, and you may notice your workforce indicating signs of:

  • People pleasing.
  • Perfectionism.
  • Overthinking.
  • Isolation.
  • Struggling to speak (especially in meetings).
  • Trying to complete tasks too quickly and worrying when they don’t.
  • Taking on more tasks than needed.

What causes imposter syndrome?

There is no single cause of imposter syndrome. Instead, there are a range of environmental factors that might come into play when your workforce are experiencing these feelings.

For example, studies suggest imposter syndrome can be a result of family dynamics or societal pressures, especially when it comes to high achieving women. In fact, a KPMG study revealed that 75% of female executives have experienced imposter syndrome in their career. However, experiencing imposter syndrome in a new job or following a promotion is something that everyone may encounter in their career at some point.

If someone already experiences symptoms of mental health conditions in the work place, such as depression or anxiety, they may be more likely to experience imposter syndrome at work as well.

How employers can help people with imposter syndrome at work

If you’re an employer who has noticed people displaying signs of imposter syndrome at work, it is your responsibility to reassure and help them build confidence in their role.

The first step is to educate yourself on imposter syndrome at work, including its causes and potential ways to ease symptoms. You can find plenty of imposter syndrome training courses online to help facilitate this, as well as informative reading materials online from business blogs and medical studies.  

And then, when you’re ready to help your workforce deal with imposter syndrome, you can start to think about the following steps you can take in the workplace:

1. Ensure opportunity for development

One common cause of imposter syndrome is when a person believes there’s a lack of opportunities for development in their job role. After all, no one wants to feel like they aren’t good enough to progress at work.

To alleviate any feelings of stagnation (which leads to imposter syndrome in the workplace), it’s important to provide opportunities for people to develop and progress into higher positions within the company.

Now, these opportunities can take many different forms. Some people will feel more confident in their role with a clear progress plan that outlines measurable objectives and a timeline for progression. Others will feel empowered in their role through knowledge sharing, which creates opportunities for your employees to both share and learn new skills, helping them work more collaboratively and more efficiently.

Regardless, ensuring that your workforce feel they can better themselves in their roles is a great deterrent for imposter syndrome at work.

2. Create a safe space for open discussion

Feeling safe and free to discuss imposter syndrome at work can be difficult. So, by creating an environment where your workforce feel comfortable speaking about their symptoms and experiences, you can help alleviate imposter syndrome and stress in work.

To create a safe space, try to build trust between yourself and employees, as well as trust amongst the whole workforce. Ensure people feel free to be themselves and express themselves, letting them know that their opinions and personalities are valued in the workplace.

In order to do this, it’s best to stay in touch with people and hold regular check ins, even when working remotely. During these sessions, practise active listening and ensure you give positive feedback, alongside any areas where the employee could improve.

You should also make sure employees feel supported with mental health issues. That way, should they begin to feel symptoms of imposter syndrome at work, they know they have a safe space to discuss their feelings. Essentially, you want your workplace to be an open environment to discuss mental health, as well as any feelings of imposter syndrome in work.

3. Provide training on imposter syndrome in work

Part of the problem with imposter syndrome at work is that not everyone will know or fully understand what they’re experiencing. And if people don’t know why they are suddenly doubting their abilities, then it makes it much more difficult to overcome those feelings.

To address this, it can be helpful to host training sessions, specifically on imposter syndrome at work. Within these sessions, you can cover what imposter syndrome is and the situations where it can manifest, as well as talk through some tips to boost confidence and minimise self-doubt.

Training on imposter syndrome at work is also a great opportunity to be more open with your workforce. It can be an uncomfortable experience, but by taking the first step towards open discussion can encourage others to speak freely about their own experiences.

4. Encourage people to celebrate their successes

When people are experiencing imposter syndrome at work, they naturally focus on what they are doing wrong and the areas they can improve. That’s why it’s important to foster a culture of positivity in the workplace, encouraging people to take the time and celebrate their successes.

In fact, with most cases of imposter syndrome at work, you’ll need to help people actually recognise what counts as a ‘success’ in the first place. Many will gloss over their day-to-day achievements, not realising how important or difficult those tasks can be – which is where you come in.

By encouraging your workforce to take the time and share their success, no matter how big or small, you can help people better deal with imposter syndrome. This could be something as simple as an email round up of successes at the end of each day or positive call outs on team meetings.

Creating a safe environment at work, ensuring people are healthy and happy, not only helps alleviate imposter syndrome at work, but can also increase productivity. If you want to learn more about promoting a mental health policy that works, sign up to our employee engagement newsletter or head over to our Be Healthy hub for more useful articles.