Imposter syndrome at work is more common than you might think. According to Indeed’s 2022 Working on wellbeing report, which surveyed 2,500 UK workers in conjunction with YouGov, three in five people experience the syndrome at work.
Imposter syndrome, also known as perceived fraudulence, is defined as a mental health condition where individuals commonly doubt their abilities and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud, despite evidence of their competence.
Feelings of inadequacy typically show up when we decide to take on new roles or new responsibilities, and it can result in self-doubt, anxiety, and guilt. Perhaps you have started a new job or been promoted? If you let it, imposter syndrome could end up sabotaging your professional progression.
It's important to note that imposter syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis but rather a common experience that many people face at some point in their lives. If you recognise the signs in yourself, know that you're not alone, and there are strategies to cope with (and overcome) imposter syndrome. It is important to identify it now, as it could have a detrimental impact on your performance and lead to burnout and depression in the longer term.
Do you recognise any of the following reflected in your thinking patterns and/or actions?
Self-Doubt: Constantly questioning your abilities and feeling like you don't deserve your accomplishments, attributing your success to luck or external factors.
Perfectionism: Setting extremely high standards for yourself and fearing that any small mistake will reveal your incompetence. Perfectionists often struggle to accept praise or recognition.
Overachieving: Working excessively hard to prove your worth, often taking on more tasks than necessary and struggling to delegate because you fear others will see you as incapable.
Fear of Failure: Being overly afraid of making mistakes, to the point that it paralyzes you or prevents you from taking on new challenges. This fear of failure can hinder personal and professional growth.
Comparison to Others: Constantly comparing yourself to colleagues or peers and feeling inadequate in comparison, even if objectively you are performing well.
Discounting Success: Minimising or dismissing your achievements, downplaying their significance, and feeling that they are not a true reflection of your abilities.
Reluctance to Seek Help: Being hesitant to ask for help or guidance because you fear it will expose your lack of knowledge or competence.
Attributing Success to External Factors: Believing that any success or positive outcome is a result of external factors such as luck, timing, or the help of others, rather than acknowledging your own skills and efforts.
Constantly Seeking Approval: Seeking validation and approval from others to feel reassured about your abilities. Relying on external praise for self-worth.
Feeling Like a Fraud: Despite external evidence of competence, feeling like you are fooling others into thinking you are more skilled or knowledgeable than you believe yourself to be.
There’s no single clear cause of imposter feelings. Rather, a number of factors likely combine to trigger them. These can be linked to childhood, parenting factors, personality traits or perhaps an acute awareness of bias.
Whilst anyone can experience these feelings of inadequacy, research consistently suggests that they tend to show up more often in women and people of colour. This is believed to be because these groups generally have less representation in professional environments.
Awareness of the bias against your gender or race might lead you to work harder in order to disprove harmful stereotypes so you might believe you need to work harder than others to be taken seriously. Simply being aware of these negative stereotypes can affect your performance, leading you to fixate on your mistakes and further doubt your abilities.
If you think you might be suffering with imposter syndrome at work, here are some strategies that may help you overcome your negative thoughts:
Acknowledge and Normalise: Recognise that imposter syndrome is common and experienced by many successful individuals. Knowing that others also feel this way can help normalise your feelings.
Challenge Negative Thoughts: When you catch yourself thinking negatively about your abilities, challenge those thoughts. Look for evidence that supports your competence and achievements.
Set Realistic Goals: Set achievable and realistic goals for yourself. Break down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small, to build confidence.
Seek Feedback: Ask for feedback from colleagues, supervisors, or mentors. Often, external validation can provide reassurance about your skills and performance.
Talk About It: Share your feelings with trusted colleagues, friends, or mentors. Discussing imposter syndrome openly can help you realise that others have likely experienced similar feelings and can provide valuable perspective.
Remember Your Achievements: Create a "brag file" or a list of your achievements, skills, and positive feedback. Refer to it when you're feeling doubtful to remind yourself of your capabilities.
Continuous Learning: Embrace a mindset of continuous learning. Understand that it's okay not to know everything, and view challenges as opportunities for growth rather than as indicators of incompetence.
Imposter Syndrome Workshops or Therapy: Consider attending workshops or seeking therapy to address imposter syndrome. Professional guidance can provide tools and techniques to manage these feelings effectively.
Define Success and Failure: Revaluate your definition of success and failure. Understand that making mistakes and facing challenges are part of the learning process and don't define your worth or competence.
Celebrate Progress: Instead of focusing solely on the end goal, celebrate the progress you make along the way. Recognize the effort you put into your work and the improvements you achieve.
Remember that overcoming imposter syndrome is an ongoing process, and it may require time and effort. Success doesn’t require perfection. True perfection is practically impossible, so failing to achieve it doesn’t make you a fraud.
Be patient with yourself and seek support when needed. If these strategies don't significantly improve your situation, it might be beneficial to consult with a mental health professional for personalised guidance to breakdown factors more specifically.
We hope this article has been helpful and gives you more clarity about what Imposter Syndrome is and how you can overcome feelings of inadequacy in a new role. If you’d like to find out more, we'd recommend the following sources: