Helping Employees Overcome Imposter Syndrome 💪

Helping Employees Overcome Imposter Syndrome 💪

What is imposter syndrome? 🤔

Ever feel like a phony? Like you cheated your way to success? No, it isn’t the devil on your shoulder; imposter syndrome is a non-diagnosable psychological phenomenon that affects many people. By definition, a person experiencing imposter syndrome has the perception that they did not earn their current success. They attribute their achievements to external factors, often luck. 

How to identify imposter syndrome 🔎

While there are no concrete symptoms for imposter syndrome, there are a few relatively common indicators. Here are some things to look for in your employees. Do they:

  • Pressure themselves to work harder, often leading to overworking?
  • Try to cover up their shortcomings and failings?
  • Constantly search for validation for roles/positions they already hold?
  • Use hard work to compensate for a perceived lack of intelligence?
  • Avoid feedback and seldom ask for help?
  • Have low self confidence, difficulty internalizing success and avoid promotion?

**While it is impossible to tell for sure whether another person has imposter syndrome, these criteria should give you an idea of your employees’ situations.**

Furthermore, there are five types of imposter syndrome, as defined by leading imposter syndrome researcher, Dr. Valerie Young, in her 2011 book “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.” They are as follows:

  1. The Perfectionist: sets unrealistic expectations for themself and then focus on their failures rather than achievements
  2. The Natural Genius: learns new skills quickly, but feels weak and inadequate when faced with any sort of challenge or resistance
  3. The Rugged Individualist: works alone, as they believe seeking help is a sign of incompetence
  4. The Expert: does not feel satisfied with finishing a task until they know everything about it; feels like a failure when they don’t know the answer to a previously encountered question
  5. The Superhero: works until they burnout, giving every task maximum effort, as they believe it is the only way to prove their worth

Mental Health Impact 🧠

It is incredibly important to address imposter syndrome, as the impact it can have on your employees’ mental health is quite strong. When allowed to run rampant, imposter syndrome can cause some, if not all of the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Frustration
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Shame

**Note this is not a concrete or extensive list, its purpose is to give an idea of how imposter syndrome can harm your employees*

Helping your employees overcome it ⛰️

The first step to helping your employees overcome their imposter syndrome is to remove the stigma surrounding success and self-doubt. Do not argue with their inner critic. This approach can often backfire, with the employee feeling even more stressed than they did before. Instead, open up a conversation with your team regarding what imposter syndrome is and what it means for each individual. Help your employees internalize the fact that self-doubt and feelings of phoniness are natural and are often a byproduct of success.

A more proactive approach you can take is to build trusted relationships with everyone in your team. Constantly checking in with your team members and showing them that you care about their well-being means they are more likely to open up about their imposter syndrome and ask for help when they need it. 

Lastly, it is imperative to create a supportive and inclusive work culture. Reassess how your management handles failure. Are you demanding too much of your workers? Are the repercussions too severe? The most important distinction between a constructive and destructive workplace culture is whether failure is treated as a learning opportunity. If you can create an environment of “happy accidents” and use failures as reasons to learn rather than as reasons to punish, employees will naturally better handle their failures and internalize their successes.

Final Words 📝

Imposter syndrome is not something anyone can reliably diagnose, and as such should not be treated as such. Regardless of whether or not you suspect your employees of having imposter syndrome, it is important to create a nurturing environment. Approach your team with a growth mindset rather than a fixed one, as doing so will only create positive change within your workplace.

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