How can HR help employees that experience Imposter Syndrome at work?

imposter syndrome at work

What is Imposter syndrome at work?

Imposter syndrome at work has been described as the silent career killer. Those experiencing imposter syndrome have a sense of inadequacy even when told otherwise. Employees will have high levels of self-doubt and potentially feel like a fraud in their job, when experiencing imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome at work can happen to any employees from CEO’s and senior managers to junior creatives and graduates. It is suggested women are more likely to experience imposter syndrome at work, research has highlighted that women are more likely to attribute their successes to luck or assistance from external factors rather than their own talent.

Generally, those experiencing imposter syndrome at work see themselves as less intelligent and knowledgeable compared to how others see their talent and capabilities.

Understanding the causes of Imposter syndrome at work

Imposter syndrome can begin with a person generating self-doubt, this may have stemmed from criticism or through comparisons. Whilst having a low level of self-doubt is normal and helps to keep employees competitive with themselves in order to better themselves and continue to upskill their abilities, there is a limit before it negatively impacts mental health.

People are more likely to share their successes on social media, especially on LinkedIn and Instagram which is causing people to compare themselves more frequently. Whether this is in job promotions or how well their business is doing and how they get to pick up their laptop, jet off and work pool side.  Employees and business owners begin to feel inadequate through comparisons from what they see in the virtual world of social media.

Employees may think by asking for help this can be seen as a weakness or others may begin to question their abilities, leading to further self-doubt and questioning of their skills.  Creating a culture that encourages all employees across different levels feel comfortable asking mentors questions or promoting learning and development helps decrease the likelihood of imposter syndrome at work.

Attributes of Imposter Syndrome

  1. Unable to assess competence or abilities realistically
  2. Pinpointing success to external factors i.e. luck
  3. Criticising work performance
  4. Setting unrealistic goals for achievements causing disappointment when not achieved
  5. Overachieving
  6. Self-doubt

How can HR help prevent imposter syndrome at work?

HR teams can help employees by providing positive feedback around an employee’s performance, particularly if the employee is new, beginning their career or received a promotion to senior level. Employees may be feeling they shouldn’t have gotten the job or promotion; positive feedback can reduce these feelings of inadequacy.

Developing a company culture which doesn’t strive for perfection in every situation, if an employee feels their work needs to be perfect every time, they may begin to self-doubt leading to developing a sense of imposter syndrome.

HR consultants and managers can assist in identifying traits or characteristics of those experiencing imposter syndrome, helping employees recognize these thoughts as negative and how to turn them into positives. Following this, HR teams can pivot the language employees are using when describing their talents, accomplishments, or knowledge, steering them to speak confidently around their skills and abilities.

Encouraging employees to identify their skills as well as recognising and acknowledging employees’ accomplishments, aiding them to realise their abilities and accepting their achievements are valid.  HR can aid in preventing employees feeling alone by having open communication with departments and individuals, can reassure employees they aren’t alone when experiencing imposter syndrome.

Industries where employees are more inclined to experience imposter syndrome at work include:

  1. Creative arts and design
  2. Information research and analysis
  3. Environment and agriculture
  4. Media and internet
  5. Law

Imposter Characteristics test

Dr Pauline Rose Clance highlights that most people experiencing imposter syndrome would not suggest they feel like an imposter but do feel their successes are down to luck or fluke. This lead to Dr Clance developed the ‘Clance Imposter Phenomenon Scale’ (CIPS) a free test people are able to take to establish if the have imposter syndrome traits.

HR departments can utilise the Imposter Syndrome test to establish if colleagues have imposter characteristics and support communication around imposter syndrome in the workplace. Test where possible should be anonymous to increase the uptake and success.

Take the test now: Imposter Syndrome test

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