What is Impostor Syndrome and How to Help Employees Deal with It

Have you ever felt like you did not deserve the credit of achievement or promotion at work? Or that your success is a pretentious act? 

These are typical impostor syndrome thoughts. People with impostor syndrome feel doubtful of their abilities and have a persistent fear of being exposed as fraud even when there is no objective evidence to support such a belief. 

All types of people can experience impostor syndrome—and not just new hires, either. Team members in more senior positions are actually more likely than average to experience impostor syndrome.

impostor syndrome

Key characteristics of impostor syndrome include self-doubt, attribution bias and fear of exposure. They often feel that their success or achievements are due to luck, good timing, or other external factors rather than their own competence or hard work. They may also believe that they don't deserve their accomplishments and are merely "posing" as competent individuals.

Perfectionists or overachievers can also suffer from impostor syndrome as they feel they have to compensate by setting unreasonably high standards for themselves or working excessively hard respectively. 

Impostor Syndrome is a Mental Health Issue

While impostor syndrome itself is not a mental disorder, it can exacerbate existing mental health conditions and create a negative cycle of self-doubt and negative thinking. This can lead to several mental health challenges and negatively affect a person's quality of life, as well as adversely impact an individual's emotional and psychological well-being.

Impostor syndrome is considered a mental health issue because it can cause anxiety and stress, cultivate low self-esteem, depression and cause burnout at work. It can also affect interpersonal relationships as individuals may struggle with feelings of unworthiness, leading to difficulties in forming and maintaining healthy connections.

People with impostor syndrome may avoid challenging situations or opportunities to prevent the possibility of being "found out." These avoidance behaviours can limit personal and professional growth and contribute to feelings of anxiety and frustration. 

Causes of Mental Health Issues

impostor syndrome

Impostor syndrome can be triggered by the following various factors that lead individuals to doubt their abilities and feel like they don't truly belong or deserve their achievements: 

  • Negative childhood experiences and early criticism
  • Cultural and societal pressures
  • The success of high-achievers
  • Perfectionism
  • Constant comparisons to others
  • Specific personality traits like self-criticism
  • Significant life changes or transitions

Sufferers from impostor syndrome usually have low self-esteem and an intense fear of failure. Recognising these characteristics and causes is an important step in addressing impostor syndrome.

Individuals can seek support from mental health professionals like counsellors or therapists to work on changing their thought patterns and self-perception to overcome these feelings of inadequacy.

Ways to Help Employees Deal with Impostor Syndrome

At the workplace, no one wants to feel like an impostor.

Managers in the organisation can support their employees’ emotional well-being by helping them combat impostor syndrome in the following ways:

1. Focus on the Facts 

The best way to fight impostor syndrome is to separate your feelings from the facts as they are observable truths. Acknowledge and validate what can be controlled and learn to let go of discouraging thoughts. 

2. Recognise the Limits of their Knowledge 

No one knows everything. Acknowledging knowledge gaps allows people with impostor syndrome to develop a growth mindset instead of feeling frustrated when they don’t know the answer to something. 

3. Evidence of Uniqueness or Achievements

Keep a list of achievements you are proud of and refer to it whenever you are experiencing symptoms of impostor syndrome, like low confidence or a sense that you don’t belong. This will help to boost your belief in yourself. 

4. Timeout is Ok 

When your colleagues feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts, suggest they find a quiet corner to take deep breaths until they are ready to reframe their thinking.

5. Refresh Their Perspective 

There is power in our thoughts. The way we approach the world has the power to shape our reality—in both positive and negative ways. For example, the next time you make a mistake, try thinking, “That wasn’t my best work, but I’ll do better next time.”

impostor syndrome

6. Assign them with a Mentor to Support Their Career Growth Interests

A mentor can offer practical advice and support to help improve hard skills and soft skills. By engaging with team members’ career interests, it can provide the confidence boost they need. 

7. Establish an Open-door Policy and Set Clear Expectations

Offer an avenue for colleagues to communicate openly without fear of repercussions. By allowing shared stories of their own journeys, team members can feel supported and encouraged that they are not alone. 

8. Share Constructive Feedback Early & Often

Check in frequently and provide constructive feedback through 1:1 meetings. This will help your colleagues feel worthy of their achievements by instilling confidence in them and giving them a better sense of their progression. 

Supporting the Emotional Well-being of Our Workforce 

In today's workplace, impostor syndrome is prevalent among professionals, high-achievers, and individuals from diverse backgrounds. Factors like high expectations, the pressure for constant self-improvement, the need for perfection, and comparisons with others can exacerbate impostor syndrome and lead to stress, burnout, and hindrance in career advancement.

Recognising and addressing these feelings is crucial for personal and professional well-being. At Babilou Family, we enjoy getting people on board our collective mission and pride ourselves to empower and enable our employees.

Check out our career listing if you are keen to join our family to provide quality education to young children and leave global footprints for future generations. 


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