New research from the UK shows that Imposter Syndrome has been reaching an all-time high during the pandemic.
Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which a person believes they’re not as smart or skilled as their peers. Feeling like frauds, they spend their working lives waiting to be ‘caught out’ for this incompetence.
Whilst these feelings have always existed, for some the blurred boundaries of working from home have only made things worse. Being at home, and out of sight, is making some feel like bigger frauds than ever before – as reflected in the 150% increase in Google searches from May 2020 to May 2021.
Business training course provider The Hub Events surveyed 1,000 British workers (primarily working in finance, marketing, digital and management roles), asking them about imposter syndrome. The results revealed that an enormous 85% of British workers surveyed suffer from Imposter Syndrome.
Christine Macdonald, Director of The Hub Events, offered advice for business leaders looked to alleviate imposter syndrome in their workplaces:
Try to create an inclusive and open environment
“44% of those surveyed said they wanted an open environment to discuss challenges. Employees should be comfortable to speak up when they’re having a problem without the fear of being seen as incompetent. Try to create an inclusive environment that helps employees open up. So things like letting everyone have an equal amount of time to speak in meetings, making sure there’s no interruptions. If people do mention their mistakes, acknowledge them, but steer the conversation towards what they’ve learnt and potential for future wins.”
Use regular positive feedback
“A 60% majority of those surveyed said that they needed regular positive feedback on their performance. This is one of the best things you can do to help alleviate your team’s issues with imposter syndrome. By providing regular and positive feedback, you’re empowering your employees and helping to reduce doubt – you want to help them find the self-awareness and self-acceptance to push past imposter syndrome.”
Recognise people’s accomplishments
“When suffering from imposter syndrome, many employees will fixate on a supposed lack of talent or skill. So bypass this by instead praising the processes and methods they used to get results. Praise effort – not results. So tell your team ‘I’ve noticed you worked hard on this’ as opposed ‘this is great work’ – this offers the praise to combat imposter syndrome but in a way which highlights the work they’ve done to get there.”
Ask teams to create a ‘Brag Book’
“You need to teach employees to internalise success. A great way to do this is to ask them to keep an internal ‘Brag Book’ – a Google doc list of all their work wins, no matter how small. This helps them to see the great work they’ve been doing and focus less on the perceived success of others – it’ll also help them when it comes to review time too. Many team members don’t realise the value of the work they do everyday.”
Remind your teams that they’re only human!
“Being detail-oriented and having high standards are great attributes for employees to have, but imposter syndrome is born from this kind of perfectionism, and left unchecked, these traits can easily lead to burnout. Effective leaders highlight the human side of working – your team aren’t robots, they need breaks, and they need to know that they can make mistakes. Don’t foster an all-work-no-play attitude; encourage staff to take time off and take holidays!”
Offer your own mistakes
“No-one wants to look like a weak boss, but you don’t want to look utterly infallible either. Tackling issues with imposter syndrome begin and end with you – so don’t be afraid to be open with teams about issues like self doubt. You need to explain that some of these feelings are normal – innovating and risk-taking are normal parts of business and they bring their own fears. By explaining how you deal with these, you help normalise these feelings.”
Christine also offered top tips for employees who are struggling with imposter syndrome too:
- Admit you’re suffering from imposter syndrome – it’s easier to deal with problems we can name. Only 25% of our respondents had heard of imposter syndrome – once you know, it’s easier to address what you’re feeling and deal with it.
- Remember people are emotional – it’s easy to confuse the way you feel for facts. You might feel bad at your job today but that doesn’t mean you are.
- Remember you’re self-involved – other team members might think you’re doing amazing. You only have access to your own thoughts – the way you come across to others might be exactly the same way they come across to you, i.e. competent!
- It’s ok to say you don’t know – if your boss puts you on the spot, it can be ok to say I don’t know the answer. Alleviate this by framing it as something you can look into – you don’t know the answer yet.
- Be kind to yourself – your feelings are normal – everyone experiences them at some point. If you’re having a bad day, don’t be scared of taking a breather.
- Develop a healthy response to failure – mistakes happen, and the best thing you can do is learn from them and move on.
- List your successes – with imposter syndrome it’s easy to ignore the everyday tasks you do, so start tracking what you do daily and highlighting any positives.
- Remember you’re an expert – when people ask your opinions, try not to second guess yourself. You were hired for a reason – because you are the expert!
- Everyone is an imposter – think of it this way, maybe everyone else you work with feels like an imposter, and they’re just better at covering it?
- Successful people fake it– the best way to become an expert is to pretend to be one. You’d be surprised how many industry leaders do this. And eventually you’ll naturally become more confident.