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How to prevent and overcome imposter syndrome in the workplace

In a recent survey by The Hub Events, 85 percent of one thousand people described themselves as incompetent at work. Shockingly many of us believe we're not good enough at our jobs despite our achievements. Out of the 85 percent, only 25 percent were aware of something called imposter syndrome.

What is imposter syndrome?

Firstly, let's distinguish between low self-esteem and imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is a constant fear of exposure, isolation, and rejection. Employees with imposter syndrome will feel as though they are masquerading in their role and on the verge of being exposed as a fraud. It's an avalanche of self-doubt and an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy. However, many of the techniques you can use to manage imposter syndrome can also help you build self-confidence.

Conversely, imposter syndrome is often linked to defining moments such as a new job or a promotion. However, it can also strike following life events such as becoming a parent or returning to work after taking time off.

Who does it affect?

It can affect absolutely anyone, even the most experienced employees or top-performing salespeople.

One of Hollywood's biggest stars Mr Tom Hanks, said: "No matter what we've done, there comes a point where you think, how did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?"

There is some evidence to suggest that perfectionists are more likely to experience imposter syndrome simply because they are never satisfied with what they achieve. Underrepresentation at work can also facilitate imposter syndrome; therefore, LGBTQ+ and BAME communities are at risk.

Over 6 in 10 women suffer from imposter syndrome, a figure which is likely to be much higher in environments where men outnumber women. The gender pay gap can also leave some women questioning their worth.

Entrepreneurs and people who don't work in a nine to five office job are also more susceptible. 

What does it look like?

  1. Writing off success to good luck

  2. Attributing your achievements to other people

  3. Believing compliments are a result of pity

  4. Blaming yourself for unrelated errors

  5. Minor mishaps lead to questioning your worth

  6. Accomplishments do not provide reassurance

  7. Feelings of guilt, you attribute to not belonging in your role

  8. You regularly experience burnout because you are afraid that what you’re doing isn’t good enough.

Imposter syndrome has been trending worldwide; why? Because many workers have experienced redundancy, furlough, homeworking, or abrupt changes to their role.

In severe cases where you don’t recognise the symptoms, imposter syndrome can lead to anxiety and depression. Although it’s referred to as a syndrome, it’s not a permanent condition. A positive mindset and a pro-active workplace can prevent people from feeling like a fraud.


Tips for individuals wanting to avoid imposter syndrome

  1. Recognise imposter syndrome could be telling you false truths about your abilities; you feeling inadequate is emotional, not factual.

  2. Remember the statistics; you are not alone.

  3. Keep a record of your achievements and refer to them when you need to.

  4. Stop talking to yourself in a negative manner.

  5. Tell yourself the only way to learn is by making mistakes.

  6. Get yourself a mentor and talk through your experiences together.

  7. Accept that it is impossible to know everything even as an expert.

  8. Perfection does not exist – so why aim for it? Pushing yourself outside your comfort zone and making mistakes is character-building; embrace it.

  9. Do not compare yourself to others.

  10. Make time for professional development; learning new skills will help you believe in your abilities.


Advice for employers that want to build a culture where imposter syndrome cannot fester

  1. Avoid a blame culture; instead, praise people for taking part and learning.

  2. Introduce a mentoring system in the workplace.

  3. Give management time and space to provide ample feedback and provide training on delivering appraisals. Managers need to prepare for sensitive conversations as criticism can leave a person feeling unworthy.

  4. Recognise success and centre your praise around a person's skills rather than hard work.

  5. Encourage leaders to share their vulnerabilities and talk openly about things that didn't go to plan.

  6. Educate employees and managers on imposter syndrome – this could be as simple as sharing this blog article.

  7. Encourage colleagues to record their wins throughout the year.

  8. Efficiency is great but remember to promote a culture where there is a balance between business targets and wellbeing.

  9. Does your business have a strategy in place to attract and retain diverse talent? People are more likely to experience imposter syndrome if they do have relatable role models.

  10. Survey staff on the training and development opportunities they need. Regular learning will boost confidence.

Attend our next Women in Tech webinar (Thursday 27th May) where we will be exploring the psychology behind self-doubt and how you can combat imposter syndrome. Register: Women in Tech Leadership: How to Build Resilience and overcome imposter syndrome.

Crimson is an IT consultancy, an IT solutions provider, an IT recruitment agency, and a Microsoft Gold Partner operating across the UK.