Dealing with Imposter Syndrome at Work

4 min Article
Imposter syndrome makes employees feel inadequate despite evident success. By discussing it with your employees, applauding their achievements and creating a positive environment, you can deal with imposter syndrome at work successfully.
Dealing with Imposter Syndrome at Work

Most of us have had instances when we have felt dispirited by our professional life. This disappointment prevents us from enjoying the fruits of our labor. For those with imposter syndrome, these feelings are intensified. Not only do they feel dispirited, but also feel they are putting up a performance every day. It’s like wearing a mask and playing a role that doesn’t reflect your true self. The only difference is that those with imposter syndrome feel that they will get caught for being phony and constantly fear this.

Although not identified as a recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (DSM-5), it tends to overlap with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and is quite prevalent in the workplace.

What is imposter syndrome?

Harvard Business Review defines it as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.” It makes people downplay success by attributing it to ‘dumb luck’ and they are constantly afraid of being ‘found out’. As mentioned earlier, even though they are being their most authentic selves, they constantly feel they are wearing a mask that hides their incompetence. You can spot it in your employees when they berate their own work, set unrealistic goals, wait for presentations to get over soon to avoid getting ‘called out’, or don’t acknowledge their success. Research has shown that it stems from parents who send confusing messages by flitting between praise and criticism or preferring one child over the other. This is what causes imposter syndrome, makes them feel undervalued, and sets a high standard to judge their performance at work.

How to deal with imposter syndrome?

Leaders can play an important role in dealing with imposter syndrome at work. Since a huge chunk is based on the fear of getting caught or being undermined by superiors, being acknowledged and encouraged by them can boost morale at work. Here are a few tips on how to deal with imposter syndrome in the workplace:

Talk about it

A lot of people feel uneasy and anxious during weekly meetings and presentations but all of them don’t necessarily grapple with impostor syndrome. Lack of awareness means many suffer in silence. With the support of leaders, employees can become better equipped to deal with imposter syndrome at work. Talk about imposter syndrome symptoms and how it makes people feel. Try to understand if any of your employees have been feeling this way. When their “weird feelings” get a name, it means others have also been going through the same issues. Knowing that they are not alone can give them comfort.

Applaud their achievements

One of the biggest imposter syndrome symptoms is a person’s tendency to downplay their successes and not believe people’s compliments. Since they believe they are just pretending to be someone who knows a lot, any compliments they receive are seen as ingenuine or aimed at the image of the person they have been ‘impersonating’. This must not deter leaders from acknowledging their hard work. Be their loudest cheerleader and constantly remind them that you believe in them and their capabilities. They may say things like, “That’s not a big deal” or “Anybody could have done that. I did nothing special”. Make them have faith in themselves and their work.

Don’t push for perfectionism

Those with imposter syndrome have the urge to be perfect at all times to convince people that they are not ‘impersonating’ anyone. This makes them set unrealistic expectations and be disappointed when they are unable to fulfill them. It’s good to pay attention to detail but this shouldn’t come at the cost of your employees’ wellbeing. Create a safe-to-fail environment where employees know you have their back if they make mistakes. The “I can’t fail” attitude only adds pressure to do things perfectly or feel the prick of disappointment, humiliation, and anxiety. Remind them that they are judged on the sincerity of their effort and not their mistakes.

Create a positive work atmosphere

Whether someone is dealing with imposter syndrome at work or not, building morale and keeping employees engaged and productive is essential. Create a work culture that’s solution-oriented and not problem-oriented. Instead of looking for what is missing in someone’s work ethic, look for ways of improvement. A good leader will recognize a person’s unique abilities to make them feel valued and supported while guiding them towards becoming better every day. For those with imposter syndrome symptoms, identifying such abilities can be a task and that’s where a good leader steps in to help them have faith in themselves and their work.

In a nutshell, to deal with imposter syndrome at work, leaders must create a safe harbor where employees feel supported and valued. Unconditional support is key to resolving such issues at work.  

Cover image sourced from Shutterstock

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Prakriti Bhat

Prakriti Bhat

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