How to Help Employees Combat Impostor Syndrome


19 Jul 2018


When you look at your employees, do you see a group of people who aren’t meant to be there, or do you see a dedicated, professional and driven workforce?

Your perception of your staff may be entirely different to the perception they have of themselves. Sometimes, looking through their eyes is easier said than done. It can be hard—from the outside—to separate the ‘impostors’ from the crowd

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome can come in many forms, some of them are more evident than others. Valerie Young, who has written several books on the matter, divides ‘impostors’ into five subcategories:

1. The Perfectionist - Perfectionists have extremely high standards for themselves and others, so when these standards aren’t met they can spiral into self-doubt. Perfectionists can be micromanagers, and experience difficulty delegating tasks. They are critical of themselves when their work isn’t 100% perfect.

2. The Superhuman - These individuals tend to push themselves much harder than they need to do as they feel they don’t measure up to colleagues. This can tend to lead to overworking, staying late at the office, stress when not working, and sacrificing free time, hobbies and passions due to time being ‘wasted’.

3. The Natural Genius - Geniuses tend not to need to work hard at anything. This means, if they come across a task that requires hard work, they believe they are bad at it. They judge themselves on getting things right first time. These individuals tend to avoid challenges, and may dislike having a mentor.

4. Rugged Individualist - Individualists believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness. They will rarely ask for help, even if they need it, and when they do they will frame the request as a requirement for a project, distancing the responsibility from their personal need.

5. The Expert - Finally, these individuals believe they have tricked their employer into hiring them. They hate being referred to as an ‘expert’ in their field, even if they are a specialist. Experts are likely to try and obtain physical evidence of their skills, such as a certificate, and may never feel they know ‘enough’.

Dealing with Impostor Syndrome

Recent studies estimate that around 70% of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their lives. It is important to keep this figure in mind when dealing with the issue. Perhaps even echo this figure to your employees as a way to start a conversation on the issue.

Make yourself (and other senior members of staff) available to talk when employees need to ask for assistance. Letting employees know you are free to talk makes it more likely that they will approach you, instead of holding in any issues to the point they boil over. Keep an eye out for any of the behaviours listed in the above categories and offer support to anyone you feel may be suffering. In appraisals, make sure you focus just as much on the individual’s achievements, as you do on their shortcomings.

The truth is, if employees (or employers for that matter) are able to think of themselves as ‘impostors’ this usually indicates that they are intelligent enough for their role. In a lot of cases, having an Employee Assistance Programme in place can help ease employees’ concerns and make them feel less pressured in their role.

Having a person to turn to who is entirely separate from the work environment can help employees put their thoughts and feelings into perspective and counter any unhelpful, self-critical worries.

Expert Support

For assistance dealing with impostor syndrome amongst your employees, or a HR issue, speak to an expert on 0808 145 3385.

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