It’s time we reconsidered our approach to Imposter Syndrome – The HR Director Magazine

Posted: August 25, 2021 at 1:45 am


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A cursory glance at the headlines of articles discussing Imposter Syndrome reveals just how many of us feel about the phenomenon Steps to kill Imposter Syndrome, How to fight self-doubt, How to conquer Imposter Syndrome, and How I beat Imposter Syndrome are just a few examples.

First identified in 1978, Imposter Syndrome is a type of self-denying thoughts and feelings. Sufferers feel that their accomplishments arise from some stroke of luck rather than because of their competencies and are often struck by fear of being found out as not being that competent.

The syndrome is often loaded with negative connotations and is regularly described as highly personal, or something predominantly experienced by women, but a recent surveyof 1,000 U.K. workers found that 80% of men, as well as 90% of women, experienced intense feelings of being an imposter at work.

Now is the time to rethink our attitudes and approach towards the condition, as viewing Imposter Syndrome as a purely individual or generic sex-related problem can desensitise the response to it and stop employers from trying to understand it.

The effect of Imposter Syndrome on the individualThe condition can be harmful to sufferers as constant doubt on ones competencies and fear of being found out can prevent workers from truly engaging with their work and feeling accomplished. The sustained experience of intense imposter feelings may lead to more serious mental health problems such as depression.

The Imposter Syndrome can also have a detrimental impact on organisations, as workers suffering from the syndrome may, in the long term, engage in counterproductive behaviours. Self-doubt, one of the most pernicious effects of the syndrome, limits the use of ones skills and can trigger workers to withdraw from work and other coworkers. Or, to the other extreme, workers with Imposter Syndrome can overwork and burn themselves out as a way to self-verify.

Prevalent but not duly recognised in the workplaceDespite how prevalent Imposter Syndrome is, several surveys reveal a huge lack of awareness of the syndrome. Whereas most of the workers experience imposter feelings, only a very small proportion of the sufferers are explicitly aware that their distress and fear may relate to Imposter Syndrome.

This lack of knowledge on and awareness of Imposter Syndrome may explain why it has not received enough recognition in the workplace. When sufferers do not have a clear recognition of their condition, it becomes extremely challenging for organisations to understand employees with such a condition. But thinking about its detrimental impacts at work, organisations and their leaders should consider taking a more active approach in identifying employees suffering from the syndrome and providing them with systematic support.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a GroupIn the past, people tended to think that Imposter Syndrome was a personal problem and that sufferers alone should take full responsibility for acknowledging and tackling it. However, as Imposter Syndrome becomes more prevalent at work and thus gains more attention, the focus in managing the syndrome started to shift from individuals to groups.

As organisations realise the importance of dealing with Imposter Syndrome, they make more efforts to understand it and do something about it. As prior focus was too much on individuals self-awareness and self-fix, this change will add some balance to our perspective on and approach to Imposter Syndrome. I think that we should view the syndrome as a systematic problem embedded in organisations and society as much as we view it as a personal problem. As such, organisations and their leaders can take a more proactive role than before in managing Imposter Syndrome among their employees.

How organisations can manage the syndrome among their workers brings up the two extra questions on how to identify Imposter Syndrome and how to treat it.

Identifying Imposter SyndromeIdentifying Imposter Syndrome is difficult. As noted, although many workers experience imposter feelings, most of them are not fully aware of their experience as a condition that needs recognition and treatment.

I suggest that organisations should take a lead in looking out to find and assess the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome among employees. To do so, its important that HR leaders and line managers those who will perform a job of diagnosis are equipped with solid knowledge on the syndrome and a set of symptoms associated with it. As typical symptoms of Imposter Syndrome, such as self-doubt, distress, and anxiety, can be seen rather as generic, I suggest that HR leaders and other managers also check whether an employee engages in the following behaviours:

Group treatments and support: culture and systemsTo some extent, Imposter Syndrome is a personal phenomenon, shaped by a persons idiosyncratic socialisation through childhood and youthhood and other critical life experience. Thus, remedies addressing personal issues and trauma, such as improving self-understanding, putting effort into self-care, and managing self-narratives, can be effective in treating the syndrome.

Yet, given that Imposter Syndrome is, to a large extent, a collective problem shaped by an organisations or a societys specific values, rewards system, and culture, I think that organisations, in addition to assessing the symptoms of employees, can do more to treat and help those who suffer from it. These are as follows:

1. Culture and systems that secure psychological safetyIn a recent blogpost, a successful portfolio manager at Wells Fargo Asset Management talks about the frustrations of herself and other sufferers as they did not have opportunities to openly and safely discuss their imposter feelings. This shows the importance of having safe place where employees can share their Imposter Syndrome with each other. When people suffer from Imposter Syndrome, their sense of belonging is already weak because of their self-doubt and withdrawal behaviours. If the sufferers think that they are the only one experiencing imposter feelings, the negative impact on their self-esteem and sense of belonging can be doubled.

Organisations should not hold back from discussing these issues. If we want to ensure teams perform at their very best, we must destigmatise conversations around Imposter Syndrome and break down the perceived barriers between personal problems and professional life. As an example, MIT Physics Department had long-held monthly luncheons where faculty, staff, and students discussed their work and personal challenges including imposter feelings.

2. Culture and systems that promote inclusion and diversityImposter Syndrome is felt on an individual level; however, the symptoms and reactions can be exacerbated by a sufferers environment. For example, when there is a lack of support for diversity at work and few relatable role models, workers with minority backgrounds fall more easily into the feelings of phoniness. Thus, to effectively manage Imposter Syndrome among employees across different backgrounds, it is important for organisations to take actions to ensure diversity and inclusion such as organising relevant unbiased training sessions and monitoring diversity issues among their workers.

For example, one step that organisations could take to ensure that minorities feel supported would be to create Employee Resource Groups where workers with minority backgrounds can discuss the unique difficulties they face as they do their jobs. Strong links between these groups and upper management should also be put into place when structural problems are exacerbating feelings of self-doubt, so they can be rectified quickly by management.

3. Culture and systems that avoid extreme competitionEvidence suggests that organisations that value extremely competitive cultures and performance-based rewards can put their employees at the risk of developing Imposter Syndrome, particularly those who work in highly competitive fields, such as in finance, start-ups, and sports, can be more susceptible.

Competition and performance-based rewards are one of the greatest motivations for employees and one of the key drivers for organisational performance. But organisations and leaders should be aware that extreme focus on competition and performance can backfire in the long term by hurting their employees if they dont make sure they are reading the signs and properly supporting their staff.

Moving forwardNobody is predestined to struggle with Imposter Syndrome. And while some steps can be taken on an individual basis to help reduce the impact that self-doubt has on a person, but I believe that organisations should be stepping in. By creating spaces for discussions about Imposter Syndrome and educating employees about the nuances of the syndrome, organisations can create a culture where no one feels like they should not be there.

Originally posted here:
It's time we reconsidered our approach to Imposter Syndrome - The HR Director Magazine

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August 25th, 2021 at 1:45 am

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