Imposter Syndrome: Fraud or the Real McCoy?

by | Sep 7, 2023 | Workplace Mental Health

In the workplace, you may not feel good enough, even when you’re successful. This phenomenon is called imposter syndrome and it can happen to all of us in the workplace.

  • 42% of employees exhibit some symptoms of imposter syndrome
  • 37% of employees on highly innovative teams said they experience one or more signs of imposter syndrome

Self-doubt and feeling like a fraud can affect anyone, no matter their accomplishments. Why do these people feel like frauds even though, in most cases, they are the very successful, high-regarded, and intelligent people we see in the workplace? How do we help these individuals to know that they might be the real thing, the Real McCoy?

What is Imposter Syndrome?

In 1978, two psychologists coined the term “imposter phenomenon” to describe the experience of being an intellectual phony, which we now know as imposter syndrome.

Imposter phenomenon, imposter feelings, or imposter syndrome are described today as a pattern of thought where individuals doubt their own abilities and fear being exposed as a fraud, despite evidence of competence.

This phenomenon or feeling often arises from a skewed perception of one’s accomplishments and capabilities. Those battling with imposter syndrome often don’t internalize their accomplishments or believe they are competent.

What Does it Feel Like?

Imposter syndrome creates a battle between one’s perception of oneself and how others perceive them. Those who battle with imposter syndrome often believe their success comes from good timing or luck, that they didn’t earn their achievements with their own capabilities, and they fear that others will realize their fraud.

These imposter feelings often lead to individuals spiraling down a dangerous path. As a result of their feelings, they work harder. Yet, further accomplishments do not reassure them. They accept recognition of their achievements as sympathy or pity from others. Any errors along the way are interpreted as a lack of intelligence or ability, and they will take all the blame for any mistakes.

How Imposter Syndrome Looks in the Workplace

Imposter syndrome can manifest in several ways to those impacted in the workplace:

Self-Doubt: Imposter syndrome can lead individuals to constantly question their abilities and expertise. They may believe their successes are due to luck, timing, or other external factors rather than their capabilities.

Perfectionism: Those with imposter syndrome may set unattainable standards for themselves, striving for perfection in everything task they do. This perfectionism can lead to burnout and increased stress in the workplace.

Overworking: A fear of being exposed as an imposter may drive individuals to overwork as they try to prove their worth. This can result in a lack of work-life balance and negatively impact their well-being.

Avoidance: People with imposter syndrome may avoid taking on new challenges or seeking growth opportunities for fear of failure and exposure to their perceived inabilities.

What’s the Impact on Employees?

Imposter syndrome can take a significant toll on individuals in the workplace:

Mental Health: It can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and even depression, as individuals constantly battle their feelings of inadequacy.

Career Development: Avoiding new opportunities and challenges can hinder professional growth and development.

Employee Relationships: Imposter syndrome may lead to difficulties in collaborating with colleagues, as individuals may feel unable to contribute meaningfully.

Impact on Employers

Imposter Syndrome isn’t just an individual problem; it also affects the company at large:

Reduced Productivity: When employees doubt their abilities, their productivity can suffer, leading to lower output and efficiency.

Employee Retention: Organizations may struggle to retain talented employees who cannot cope with the emotional toll of imposter syndrome.

Lack of Innovation: A fear of failure can suppress innovation. Employees battling imposter syndrome may be reluctant to take risks and try new approaches.

How to Address Imposter Syndrome

Awareness: Acknowledge imposter syndrome and create an awareness of it in the workforce. Encourage open conversations about imposter syndrome in the workplace to reduce the stigma associated with it.

Education: Provide training and resources to help employees recognize and cope with imposter syndrome. Offer learning and development opportunities to show a commitment to employee growth and allow individuals struggling with imposter syndrome to gain new skills and reinforce their sense of competence.

Mentorship and Support: Foster a mentorship and peer support culture to help individuals build confidence and resilience. Foster a mentorship and peer support culture to help individuals build confidence and resilience. Encouraging peer support can help employees feel connected and offer individuals a safe place to share their feelings openly.

Create a Culture of Recognition: Recognize and celebrate individual and team achievements to boost confidence and morale. Regular recognition of one’s achievements and strengths can help diminish self-doubt.

Imposter syndrome is a universal issue in the workplace that affects both individuals and companies at large. Recognizing its presence and implementing strategies to address it is essential for creating a more inclusive and supportive work environment. By acknowledging the impact of imposter syndrome and taking proactive steps to combat it, we can help individuals unlock their full potential and contribute to the success of their organizations.

Want to learn more about imposter syndrome? Join Axiom Medical in our upcoming webinar, ‘Faking It? Shatter Imposter Syndrome and Shine!’ with Dr. Les Kertay! Dr. Kertay will help us learn more about the syndrome, provide tips and tricks for beating imposter feelings, and will teach us how to identify imposter syndrome.

Register for Free!

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