Imposter syndrome at work

Imposter syndrome is an internal experience when an individual denies believing they are competent as others consider them to be. They also worry about being tagged as incompetent or incapable of meeting workplace expectations.   

You aren’t alone in experiencing this syndrome when sometimes it becomes hard to cope. It’s also challenging to confess these feelings to others. Managers intend to support their team, but identifying and addressing the syndrome may not be easy.  

Imposter syndrome is not what only new hires experience, rather, all people experience it. Research shows that 62% of workers experience imposter syndrome, and 42% of employees are experiencing both the syndrome with burnout worldwide. 

In this regard, career trends specialist at Glassdoor, Jill Cotton, added that the workplace needs to ensure a smooth path to success. So, help an individual overcome problems of imposter syndrome.  

Behavioral pattern of imposter syndrome

  • Perfectionism – We strive like a perfectionist to get things right so that we get exposed. 
  • Procrastination – We want everything to be in fine line and not expose our failures. 
  • Blaming others – We blame others in case of any mistake, as our mistakes can be devastating. 
  • Being a workaholic – We overcommit to avoid others pointing out that we aren’t good enough.  
  • Avoidance or apathy – We lower the goals realizing our inefficiency. Later if we don’t do well, we can blame it on our initiative.

Also Read: Unique Ways to Support Wellness in the Workplace

Imposter syndrome during the pandemic

The 2020 pandemic caused a rise in imposter syndrome. Self-doubt became a byproduct when employees started to work in isolation. Due to this, 33% of professionals reported how the pandemic, along with problems like imposter syndrome, impacted their professional confidence.   

The symptoms intensified with fewer chances to connect and celebrate success with coworkers. 

Signs of Imposter Syndrome

The head of Early Career Insights, Laura Mills, told Workest that employees with signs of imposter syndrome face difficulty accepting praise or compliments. They can even abstain from asking for help as, to them, it is a sign of failure.  

Signs of imposter syndrome

Giving others credit for your success

You don’t realize success or accomplishments. You give accolades for other reasons except for the one you are to be praised for. These are types of imposter syndrome. People with a healthy knowledge of self-esteem can take credit for any hard-earned achievements. They will praise others but have problems accepting it themselves. No matter how privileged you feel, accept credit when it’s due at the workplace.   

Taking up unnecessary pressure on yourself

Do you over-prep for every meeting and stay back to work even after your co-workers have left? Perhaps you are constantly comparing yourself and cannot handle the constant anxiety saying that you are yet to give your best. If this sounds similar, these are obvious signs of imposter syndrome and try to come out of it. People with the syndrome have a tendency to overcompensate with fear to avoid being ‘found out’. However, with success, the fear also worsens, resulting in an escalating cycle leading to an unbearable situation overall. Constant fear leads to procrastination.   

Doing too much self-sabotaging 

You receive an ambiguous email from your boss and get trapped in a spiral of anxiety. The email is enough to convince yourself that you may get fired. You keep on thinking that whatever you bring to the table to your boss might devalue you and hamper your future promotions. 

You are already preoccupied with a story to make you unnecessarily anxious. Even when things aren’t falling into place with personal relationships or office colleagues and friends, deep down, you start believing that you don’t deserve to be happy. And that you have to take risks and will get hurt eventually.   

Struggling with burnout 

You may be struggling with burn out for years, leading to imposter syndrome problems. Burnout is a condition that is caused due to persistent occupational stress, and you may struggle to cope with it. Three characteristics to understand it is:

  • Exhaustion or fatigue 
  • Lower work effectiveness
  • Feeling increased pressure and negativity from the job and being mentally distanced from the job 

This shows how imposter syndrome gives rise to burnout situations. If you only overthink and never feel proud of your accomplishments, it can eventually lead to feeling low and getting a negative perspective on your occupation. Once this happens, you will stop caring about your professional performance in the workplace.   

Also Read: Employee Burnout: What You Need to Know About It

Not working for your needs 

The situation can come up in different ways. An individual may be reluctant to negotiate for salary when hired. That reluctance to negotiate for salary again comes from the feeling that you are a fraud and getting the job is enough for you, no matter the pay scale. 

It impacts self-care and doesn’t even take benefits like vacations or others. But you work hard throughout the day without leaving any stone unturned at your workplace. 

These are some of the signs of imposter syndrome at work that both managers and employees can experience. If you recognize any of these signs with behavioral changes, try to acknowledge them. Whichever signs you relate with, it is important to find what drives you to those behaviors and the associated causes. 

How to get rid of imposter syndrome? 

Before holding on to negative self-talk when suffering from imposter syndrome, try the following to get rid of it. 

Go by facts and not feelings 

Imposter syndrome aggravates your feeling that your performance isn’t up to the mark. These are often based on fear and are not real. Try to combat imposter syndrome with facts, and don’t let your negative feelings win. That way, you can take actionable steps for what you cannot control. 

You cannot stop your brain from creating stories, but you can try to center your thoughts around facts. When feeling trapped in an imposter syndrome, go by facts rather than feelings.   

Look for Guidance 

Look for guidance from a mentor who can help improve your soft and hard skills. This way, when you feel that you aren’t good at any task, you can get back confidence with the belief that you are trying your best. The mentor should be someone from your field with practical experience to support you. Moreover, if you trust the person, you can better share imposter syndrome as an employee and how you feel.

Learn from your teammates

A common instinct is to compare yourself with your teammate and think each member can outdo you. While comparing becomes a habit, try to reframe your perspective. 

Next time you feel like comparing yourself with teammates, take a step back and try to learn from what you think are their superior qualities. You will have teammates who excel in various fields, and there’s a lot to learn from each, including yourself. That won’t make you less worthy. Instead, it’s an excellent opportunity to help others grow in a team. Recognize others’ good work and use it as a tool to improve yourself to deliver better in the future. 

Also Read: Six Benefits of Collaboration in the Workplace

How can managers prevent imposter syndrome?

If you are a team manager, your priority should be to support each and reduce signs of imposter syndrome at work. A few ways can be:

  • Provide opportunities for connection 

Every team member should have ample chances to connect with each other. Mentor any new member of the team and help them mingle better. Similarly, all the members should be aware of any available resources. 

  • Clarify ways for communication 

Without a clear sense of communication norms, it can be intimidating how to approach other team members. It can simplify the initial hurdle of communicating. Make sure to use the correct tool and person to contact when having doubts. 

  • Keep a frequent check

Have a check-in during a meeting where team members can feel free to express how they are doing. If managers are transparent about sharing thoughts, it encourages team members to do the same. 

So, when someone is putting a lot of pressure to give their best, managers can help them with positive feedback. 

  • Get into the habit of sharing frequent feedback 

More often, imposter syndrome isn’t based on a real situation. Situations leading to imposter syndrome can improve with comforting and frequent feedback from team members and managers. Once you have a sense that you are doing it right, it can work with confidence. A little feedback now and then, can boost your confidence and help grow the basis of working hard. 

It is how managers can help team members conquer the syndrome with confidence and proper guidance. Managers should support the growth interests of team members, giving them the adequate confidence boost they require.  

Also Read: The Ultimate Guide to 360-Degree Feedback in the Workplace

In conclusion: Can imposter syndrome affect your work?

If imposter syndrome seems to hold you back at work, try to identify the psychological discomfort behind the role. It is a temporary state of being in a person who is always thinking about whether they can give their best performance. If you are aware of workplace microaggressions, you must know how they can lead to imposter syndrome. So, challenge the lies beneath imposter syndrome and prevent it from aggravating. This syndrome can affect any area of activity, if you don’t let your negative feelings go.



Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. How does an HR handle imposter syndrome at work?

Ans. The role of an HR is to encourage managers with the latest tools and knowledge and create healthy expectations in the workplace. When an employee is not respected in a workplace it can lead to imposter syndrome. This is when managers should focus on inclusion, which can make one feel validated. Acknowledge hard work publicly that can boost an individual’s motivation.

Q2. Why is Imposter Syndrome a problem?

Ans. There are types of Imposter Syndrome that can lead to problems like:

  • Reduce wellbeing and increase the chance of mental health problems 
  • Isolates an individual and impacts their interpersonal relationships 
  • The sufferers fear of failing and fail to try new things due to failure

Q3. How to deal with imposter syndrome before it can hinder success?

Ans. Know the signs, and you aren’t alone in it. Try to distinguish between fear and humility. You can seek help from a mentor or manager who can show you the best ways to overcome those negative thoughts.