How to mitigate the detrimental effects of imposter syndrome in the workplace

According to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70 percent of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.

As a Manager, you are tasked with safeguarding both your employees’ wellbeing and your company’s productivity. It is therefore important to be aware that the effects of imposter syndrome can be crippling for both your employees and your business.

Imposter syndrome (IS) (also known as impostor phenomenon, fraud syndrome, perceived fraudulence, or impostor experience) typically presents itself as a key behavioural health condition. It causes the sufferer to feel deeply inadequate.

These feelings are likely to continue despite clear external evidence of their success and competence. Chronic self-doubt and an overwhelming sense of intellectual fraudulence override any feelings of achievement. “Do I honestly know what I’m doing?” or “Am I really good enough for this job?” or “Am I going to be found out as incompetent any minute now?” are common questions plaguing those who suffer from IS.

In the workplace, the more these doubts build in an employee’s mind, the more likely they are to unravel. This will negatively impact their own performance, productivity, affective commitment, morale and engagement overall. IS can manifest itself as burnout as the sufferer will often work long hours and continually strive for perfection in an attempt to prove their worth to themselves and others.

With up to 62% of adults in the UK having experienced imposter syndrome at work at some point during their working lives, this condition is certainly something to be aware of and be prepared for.

So, how can you support your employees to mitigate the detrimental effects of imposter syndrome on them and on your company’s results?

Know your people and communicate appropriately

It is important for any employee that Managers conduct appraisals and give recognition in an employee-centric fashion. However, it is essential for those who suffer from imposter syndrome.

An employee’s natural behaviour will determine how they like to be appraised or recognised. Don’t unquestioningly assume that the way in which an employee conducts themselves at work is necessarily reflective of their basic disposition.

It may be that your employee naturally has a need for private, introspective reflection and time to think. At work, you might, however, see a much more extraverted individual, appearing reasonably talkative and gregarious. This adapted behaviour might be the result of that person’s need to fit into their environment, possibly due to the job requirements or the people they work with.  

But how can you reliably decipher your employee’s true behaviour?

Using scientifically-based, reputable Behavioral Assessments can provide valuable insights into the natural and actual behavioural needs of your employees. They can help you to really get to you know your people. You can then tailor your approach and communication style to the individual’s needs. This knowledge can also inform the way in which appraisals are conducted and recognition is given.

For instance, some employees will naturally prefer more private recognition rather than fireworks and fanfares, or they might be particularly sensitive to criticism. Interacting with your employees in the right way will allow praise – and criticism – to resonate so much better.

This is particularly important for employees who are in the grip of chronic self-doubt. An approach based on behavioural needs will be perceived as more sincere and believable. Consequently, the message is more likely to get through. It will instil trust and may even create a relationship where open conversations around the issues of imposter syndrome can take place.

It is important that Managers don’t argue with the inner critic of an IS-sufferer but instead acknowledge that fears and self-doubt are part of normal working life. Again, the tailored behaviour-centric approach is crucial here as it signals positive understanding. You might even be able to encourage your employee to see which expectations of themselves are realistic and that striving for perfection at all cost is not entirely necessary.

Mentoring Managers who are attuned to the imposter worries of their employees will be quick to counter them with plenty of affirmation and encouragement. Good humour and grace are important, when seeking out opportunities to express belief in the employee and remind them that they have a right to be here and are doing a good job.

Adopt an encouraging culture

It is essential for any employee’s wellbeing and performance to be able to emotionally connect with their place of work through the values and the people that they work with. After all, ‘team’ and ‘culture’ are two of the four forces of disengagement, next to ‘manager’ and ‘job’.

An employee who is a good fit with their manager, job, team and culture will have a deeper sense of belonging. They are more likely to stay with the company and go the extra mile. This positively impacts their performance.

Adopting an encouraging culture can yield fantastic results in the workplace. If colleagues are aware of each other’s behavioural traits and needs, they can provide appropriate encouragement, celebrate their successes in the right manner and weather any storms much more securely. The team can work more efficiently and effectively together towards a common goal in a supportive work environment.

Again, behavioural data can help with team cohesion and fit. It provides a better understanding of where each team member is positioned for instance in relation to communication styles, decision making and taking action. Team analytics can also give insights into a team’s strengths, highlight any areas of caution and provide tips to improve team cooperation.  

This helps to build a strong and understanding team. For an employee struggling with imposter syndrome, it is hugely important to surround themselves with networks that are as supportive as possible. They are much more likely to thrive in a team that is relatively free of conflict and promotes an encouraging company culture.

The objective knowledge around the natural workplace behavioural needs and traits of your existing employees, and the insights into team dynamics can also help you to make informed hiring choices. Meaning that the new recruits will integrate into the company and their team more easily and successfully.

An employee prone to self-doubt might feel particularly threatened or unsettled by the addition of a new team member. A smooth onboarding process of a new employee who fits well into the team behaviourally and shares the same values will go some way towards making all existing employees feel more secure and at ease. It will ensure that the team can continue to provide the secure and encouraging environment that is so important for IS sufferers.

Imposter Syndrome is an issue that everyone can experience at some point in their career. It can strike at all levels of an organisation, from high performers, to new employees and those who are up for a promotion. If these negative feelings linger, they can lead to destructive working habits, and can have devastating effects on business results.

In conclusion, a well-constructed workforce based on a talent strategy that is informed by objective behavioural data is important to safeguard your business against the negative impact of imposter syndrome both on your employees and your business. Creating a supportive and understanding business culture is also vital. It helps you to support your employees in the best way possible whilst maximising your business results.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with managing imposter syndrome in the workplace. Please do leave us a comment.

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