How to manage imposter syndrome in your business

Wednesday November 13, 2019

Female nurse or doctor stressed at work

As an employer you may not be surprised to hear that some people lie on their CV to increase their chances of getting a role. They will knowingly falsify grades, get phony references and even make up work experience or entire educational establishments. This is employment-related fraud. So many employers now include thorough background checks, in addition to interviews, in the recruitment process to dig deeper and filter out imposters.

What you may not be so familiar with is that the opposite can be true. Some people, with legitimate qualifications, real work experience and a proven record of success can, at times, doubt their abilities so much that they fear being exposed as a fraud. Dismissing their life achievements and feeling inadequate and incapable, these employees suffer from imposter phenomenon, also commonly referred to as imposter syndrome.

We can all experience moments of self-doubt from time to time. Overcoming nerves in the workplace is an important part of our personal and professional development. But imposter syndrome is more intense than this, and the symptoms can be debilitating.

What is the cause of imposter syndrome?

There are many complex factors that lead individuals to question their abilities and feel like imposters. From childhood upbringing to negative school experiences, battles with confidence or feelings of under representation. Anyone who experiences it will have their own mix.

Who is at risk from imposter syndrome?

Studies show that a staggering 70% of people will suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in their lifetime. And although it affects many people, it often goes unreported as a sufferer’s fear of being exposed, however unjustified, will often stop them from opening up about their psychological struggles.

We do know that imposter syndrome commonly affects high achievers or those trying something new for the first time. And while almost anyone can be a victim, it is minority groups who have reported a higher presence of symptoms. Research tells us that women and LGBTQI employees are more likely to experience imposter syndrome.

How can employers help those with imposter syndrome?

The signs and symptoms of imposter syndrome are not physical or obvious. Therefore it can be difficult for employers to know if an employee is suffering. So, we suggest that employers take a proactive approach to reduce the chances of manifestation.

Five top tips on how to counteract imposter syndrome

1.Effective interviews and detailed job descriptions – Conducting effective interviews will help you to clarify a candidate’s suitability for a role and provide an opportunity to explore their experience further. This is prime question time for both you and them to decide if they are in the right place. Taking some knowledge of imposter syndrome into interviews can help you target your questions

A clear and concise job description will help to attract the right person for a role. For someone vulnerable to imposter syndrome it will provide clarity of their scope which may help ease their anxiety.

But a job description also exists to remind employees of their position and purpose at work. If your company has grown or you have had a restructure, roles may have changed overtime. Keep all existing job descriptions up to date so that employees are clear and content with their responsibilities and capabilities.

2.An inclusive culture – As one of the key causes of imposter syndrome is a feeling of under-representation, it’s important to have a robust diversity and inclusion strategy in place for your business. This will help to inform your company culture and values which employees adhere to daily.

If you ever feel that an employee is not behaving in accordance with these values, you must refer back and remind them in order to protect and maintain your culture.

3.Position failures as growth – Those suffering from imposter syndrome, particularly high achievers, will see failures as validation that they are incapable. But failures can happen to us all and learning from them is how we grow and improve. If employees are afraid to fail it can create insurmountable pressure and have a negative effect on mental health.

To combat the impossible perfectionist, celebrate second chances and explain that they can learn from a mistake. You may like to point out that it’s human nature and that even you have experienced mishaps during your career.

4.Be approachable – If employees know that your door is open, they are more likely to confide in you about personal struggles interfering with their work. Although a conversation might seem awkward at first, it is better to address their concerns and seek a resolution as this will enable them to move forward and reach their full potential. It also stops you from having to guess what might be affecting their performance or behaviour.

5.Seek expert advice – Identifying and combatting imposter syndrome can lead to wider discussions about your workforce structure and employee well-being. If you’re experiencing doubts about how to proceed, remember that we are here to help. Call our HR experts today for practical advice.

Preventing People Problems

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