How understanding imposter syndrome matters for better employee wellbeing

As an individual navigating the professional landscape in the United Kingdom, you may have experienced moments of doubt about your abilities and accomplishments.

This is known as imposter syndrome, affects countless employees across many industries and can have a significant impact on your overall well-being.

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By gaining a deeper understanding of imposter syndrome and its implications, you can foster a healthier work environment, improve self-confidence, and enhance your overall job satisfaction.

Let’s explore the intricacies of imposter syndrome and learn how to combat its negative effects for a more fulfilling and successful career journey.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon where individuals doubt their accomplishments and feel like they’re a fake, despite evidence of their competence and achievements.  Imposter syndrome is more common than you might think, and it’s crucial to address it to promote a healthier work environment.

Imposter syndrome affects a significant portion, up to seventy per cent, of the population at some stage in their lives. However, for some individuals, up to three in ten, these emotions become overwhelming and persistent, never truly dissipating. This phenomenon can be severely incapacitating, hindering career growth, impacting mental well-being, straining relationships, and even culminating in burnout.

Recognising and addressing imposter syndrome is crucial for personal growth and creating a healthier, more fulfilling life and work experience.

Remember it is natural to feel like this at times, but when you are feeling like this most of the time then you need to take action.

It is very common when getting promoted to a leadership role to feel underconfident but when it starts to escalate to more and more doubts then this is the time to get support before it escalates to ill-health and burnout.

The Different Types of Imposter Syndrome.

There are different types of imposter syndrome that you or others around you might experience. Researcher Dr Valerie Young came up with five impostor types:

The first type is the Perfectionist.

You constantly set excessively high standards for yourself and feel like a failure even when you achieve excellent results.

Next is the Expert,

You believe you’ll never know enough and worry about being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable.

Then we have the Natural Genius.

You expect to excel effortlessly in everything you do and feel inadequate when faced with challenges.

The Soloist fears asking for help.

You think it will reveal your inadequacies, leading you to shoulder burdens alone.

Lastly, the Superhero type

You feel the need to work harder than anyone else to prove your worth, often burning out in the process.

Understanding these different types of imposter syndrome can help you identify the thought patterns and behaviours that might be holding you or your team members back.

If you recognise the signs, you can develop strategies to overcome imposter syndrome and build a more supportive and nurturing workplace culture.

What are the signs of Imposter Syndrome?

As a supportive manager, being attuned to the signs of imposter syndrome in your team members is crucial for providing the right assistance and guidance.

Here are some key indicators to look out for:

If a team member consistently sets exceedingly high standards and seems driven to prove their competence at all costs, they might be grappling with imposter syndrome.

Team members who downplay their achievements, attribute successes to luck or believe they are not as capable as others may be struggling with imposter syndrome.

Those experiencing imposter syndrome often avoid asking for assistance, fearing it will expose their perceived inadequacies.

Team members who frequently seek reassurance and approval for their work may be grappling with self-doubt and could have imposter syndrome.

Individuals who are overly concerned about making mistakes or avoid taking on new challenges due to a fear of failure may be battling imposter syndrome.

If a team member consistently brushes off compliments or attributes their achievements to external factors rather than their abilities, it could be a sign of imposter syndrome.

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Those struggling with imposter syndrome may experience heightened anxiety and stress, especially in situations where they feel their competence and outcomes are being evaluated.

An excessive focus on work and an unrelenting drive to succeed may be a coping mechanism for individuals battling imposter syndrome.

Team members who shy away from new projects or leadership roles due to a lack of confidence in their abilities might be struggling with imposter syndrome.

Individuals with imposter syndrome may find it challenging to accept constructive criticism, as they perceive it as a validation of their insecurities and will show defensive tendencies

As a manager, observing these signs enables you to approach your team members with empathy and support.

By creating a safe and open space for communication, you can help them address these feelings and work towards building self-assurance and a positive self-image.

Your conversation with them needs to be non-judgmental and more of a curious and supportive discussion.  You need to go in with an open mind and actively listen to what they share as in some cases it won’t necessarily be imposter syndrome.  The key here is exploring with your team member how you can support them rather than giving them a label of Imposter syndrome.

Your understanding and guidance play a vital role in helping your team members overcome imposter syndrome and thrive in their roles.

Where does Imposter Syndrome begin?

Imposter syndrome often takes root during moments of self-doubt and uncertainty in your life.

Sometimes it can take hold in childhood, for instance, if you are continually being told what you’ve achieved is not good enough, it can create anxiety for the future and a fear of failing.

Sometimes it starts with a challenging task or a significant life event where you feel the pressure to succeed and fear being exposed as inadequate and the anxiety builds up.

Perhaps you received praise for your achievements, but instead of embracing it, you dismissed it as luck or a fluke. In your eyes, the praise is a one-off.

As time goes on, these feelings can persist, gradually permeating different aspects of your life.

It becomes a continuous cycle, affecting how you perceive your abilities, accomplishments, and even the recognition you receive from others.

This persistent self-doubt can lead you to downplay your successes and overemphasise your mistakes, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy where you constantly seek validation but struggle to believe in your capabilities.

Breaking free from the clutches of imposter syndrome requires self-awareness, self-compassion, and a supportive environment that empowers you to embrace your unique self, your true worth and potential.

Ten Tips to help you with Imposter Syndrome

These tips can help you establish ways to reduce the way you feel and the knock-on effect on your career.  They can also help you with your team members to support them.

Embrace Self-Awareness

Start by recognising when imposter syndrome creeps in. Identify the triggers and where it stems from.  Often journaling can help with this.

Pay attention to the negative thoughts and self-doubts that arise when faced with challenges or successes.

Challenge Negative Thoughts

When imposter syndrome strikes, question the validity of those negative thoughts. This is the time to dig deeper into what you are telling yourself. 

You are probably only looking at what is happening from a single negative view. 

Think about what you could add to this to give it depth. 

What strengths were you using? 

How did people working with you, react to you and the outcomes?

What thoughts are you ignoring that need listening to?

Looking at your career consider how much of your successes are down to specific skills and strategies you have used.

Expand your thoughts and consider what others would be saying to you, if they knew what you were thinking.

Explore a set of questions to use every time the imposter syndrome rears its head.  For example – What evidence do I have for this thought?

Challenge Negative thoughts + Mentor others hels reduce Imposter Syndrome picture

Celebrate Achievements

Acknowledge your successes, big or small. Keep a journal where you write down your accomplishments, reminding yourself of your capabilities regularly.

Or what about a jar where every time you have a success, whether small or large you add a note with it recorded and when you are struggling you dip into the jar and remind yourself of a previous success?

Remember to record your strengths, including those that create a buzz and passion in you. If you are struggling to identify your strengths, read these blogs here.

Want to join the seven-day challenge running soon on understanding your strengths and identifying them, then pop here and sign up for more news shortly.

Set Realistic Goals

Avoid setting impossibly high standards for yourself. Set achievable goals and focus on steady progress rather than seeking perfection.

Break the goals down into smaller steps and celebrate each step achieved. Reward yourself with something you like.

Often the problem is we wait to celebrate until the end yet each of those small steps is a milestone that needs acknowledging and recognising.

Seek Feedback and Support

Don’t be afraid to seek feedback from colleagues, your managers, and others you come into contact with. Accept constructive criticism and use it as a growth opportunity. Record the positives to revisit and tap into these whenever having a bad day.

Reframe Failure

 Understand that failure is a natural part of learning and growing. Instead of viewing failures as a reflection of your worth, see them as opportunities to learn and improve.

In this world of constant change and uncertainty, it is too easy to beat yourself up when something doesn’t go right. 

But think about what you would say to someone else in the same situation. 

Would you be cruel to them like you are to yourself? 

Uncertainty in the business world is hard to contend with at times and the best thing you can do is go to the step at a time when leading on a task or project. Want to read more about leading in uncertainty, then pop to this blog and podcast.

Talk About Your Feelings

Open up to trusted friends, family members, or colleagues about your imposter syndrome experiences. Often, discussing your feelings can provide a fresh perspective and emotional support. And when we share we often find it reduces the impact and it helps someone else too.

Work in an agile way

Problems and events in the workplace can often be complicated or complex.  Realising this helps you work in an agile fashion allowing for trial and error.

When working on resolving an issue, concentrate on solving the problem in stages and show others it is okay to change the path when something isn’t working. 

First of all, get the data and tap into other’s views (but don’t spend too long in this stage) then work with your team to come up with possible solutions and decide on the one to implement. 

Then plan in bitesize steps in a sprint fashion.  For example, 2 weeks works really well with specific steps in that 2 weeks.  If at the end of the 2 weeks, there are snags you can adapt the plan to take this into account and use the next 2 weeks to try a different approach.

This demonstrates to your team and yourself, it is okay if something goes wrong, you just adapt.

Develop Expertise

Invest time and effort in developing your skills and knowledge. The more confident you feel in your abilities, the less likely imposter syndrome will hold you back. Link this back to understanding your strengths too.

Mentor Others

Share your experiences and knowledge with others, especially those who may be struggling with similar feelings.

Becoming a mentor can reinforce your confidence and affirm your expertise.

Often we are harsh on ourselves thinking we haven’t remembered or learnt enough but when we start to teach others we suddenly realise how much we have absorbed.

Remember, overcoming imposter syndrome is a journey, and it may take time.

Be patient with yourself and celebrate each step you take towards eradicating these feelings.

With consistent effort and a positive mindset, you can break free from imposter syndrome’s grip and embrace your true worth and potential.

If you are supporting your team members with imposter syndrome, then your patience and empathy will make a difference.

Tackling this phenomenon will help create a workplace where there is less anxiety, more decision-making, less procrastination, more self-confidence and a reduction in burnout.

Feeling as if you need support then book a discovery call to explore how I can support you in your leadership role and increase your career success.

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