Why is imposter syndrome still plaguing some workers?

Some don't want recognition; some don’t want to be seen as leaders

Why is imposter syndrome still plaguing some workers?

Feeling that you aren’t good enough and that somehow, you have been thrust into a job you didn’t deserve, has long been something many employees have experienced.

But just how pervasive is this feeling?

According to a recent survey, the majority of workers actually believe that they are charlatans.

Nearly three in five (58 per cent) workers experience imposter syndrome in the workplace – meaning they often believe they are inferior to others or have faked their way into positions despite impressive accomplishments, according to a report from Indeed.

Overall, more than one in 10 (13 per cent) employees and one in five (20 per cent) of senior managers admit they “always” or “very frequently” feel like a fraud, finds the survey of 2,500 workers in the U.K.

“This is quite common in all workplaces, but has particular implications in corporate and academic environments, where certain jobs hold a lot of power and have a lot of responsibilities,” says Fabienne Palmer, a clinical psychologist who consults organizations in the creative industry.

Employers with workers who experience frequent imposter syndrome face considerable challenges:

  • greater levels of procrastination (63 per cent)
  • longer working hours (57 per cent)
  • higher staff turnover (44 per cent)
  • a loss in productivity (41 per cent)
  • employees who avoid applying for internal promotions (39 per cent).

“If you feel you don’t fit the mold, or represent something slightly different from the norm, imposter syndrome, or the sense you are left with — the emotions, thoughts, and feelings in your body — can really impact on your sense of self, your confidence, and ultimately your capacity to thrive in the workplace,” says Palmer.

These feelings of stress were common pre-pandemic but due to the nature of the pandemic, that has helped to exacerbate the situation, says one senior HR leader who has also experienced this in the past.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the hybrid or remote workforce, and it’s a lack of connection to other individuals who may be in other roles and maybe it’s a comparison to other individuals that they just don’t have as much access to,” says Amy Mosher, chief people officer at isolved in Gardnerville, Nev.

“So they kind of wonder: ‘Am I doing the same thing that other people are doing? Am I performing at the same level as other people? Am I producing at the same level?’”

For her, just the fact that she didn’t recognize herself in any of the other senior executives, the imposter syndrome feeling hit home.

“As a Latina executive that looks quite young, I felt a lot of imposter syndrome because I didn’t look like anyone else, because I didn’t have the same background as other executives in the room. We do naturally compare ourselves to other people.”

Not all want recognition

For some workers, there is a level of apprehension that becomes their world view and by being signaled out, this could be devastating.

A lot of people with social anxiety don’t like to be celebrated, says Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist on the faculty at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD).

“They don’t like to be the centre of attention… And it sounds like he was clear about that and said, ‘I do not love this.’ And so if you cross somebody’s boundary like that, that’s not OK.”

That said, people with social anxiety are often “spectacular” employees, she says, because social anxiety has a lot of “superpowers” such as high conscientiousness, being diligent and responsible, and taking their jobs seriously.

“It’s exactly the kind of employee you would want. So I think that it’s important not just to focus on the struggles of toxic social anxiety, but to remember that there’s a lot of good that comes bundled together in that package.”

Leadership not required

While imposter syndrome and certain anxieties continue to be an issue in many workplaces, the reason why some women aren’t being promoted enough, just might be because they don’t want to be leaders, according to a new study.

The study was conducted by organizational behaviourist Ekaterina Netchaeva and gender researcher Leah Sheppard, along with collaborator Tatiana Balushkina.

Sheppard told Bloomberg that she had long been puzzled by the continued gender leadership gap in business despite corporate diversity efforts.

“The conversation around women and leadership was really dominated by bias and discrimination,” she said. “We thought that there was a place to talk about women’s agency: Are women actually intending to pursue these positions as much as men?”

The seven-year meta-data analysis tracked the interests and ambitions of 138,000 women across 174 studies dating back to the 1960s and aggregated the data to analyze the gender gap, Bloomberg reported.

“The results confirmed our suspicions that women are not as interested,” Netchaeva said.

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