Managing imposter syndrome in the workplace

Published Jan 26, 2024

Over recent weeks the issue of imposter syndrome has been widely discussed across news outlets, in documentaries and on social media. In this article we define what the syndrome is and look at how best to support any employees that struggle with it.

What is imposter syndrome?

The concept of imposter syndrome was introduced in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, who defined it as a sense of "phoniness in individuals who, despite notable accomplishments, perceive themselves as lacking intelligence, capability, or creativity.” These are usually individuals wo strive for success but fear being exposed as frauds.

The condition impacts on people at all levels in the workplace and society, even those who others would regard as highly successful.

Research by the Executive Development Network shows that half of UK adults have experienced imposter syndrome at work. But it can be hard to spot the signs in colleagues. Women are more likely than men to experience the syndrome as are both Generation Z and Millennials when compared to their older peers.

The primary trigger for imposter syndrome is when an individual compares themselves to others at work.

How to help employees manage imposter syndrome

  • Provide feedback to employees that enables them to judge themselves fairly compared to peers
  • Help employees define what success in a role will look like and set realistic SMART goals. As they progress in a role they can self-assess progress against the milestones and targets that they set themselves to achieve.
  • Create a culture of celebrating successes and where individual skills and achievements are acknowledged
  • Encourage self-reflection to enable employees to see themselves in a positive light
  • Ensure development opportunities are provided and that training needs are met and regularly reviewed to build the confidence of individual employees.
  • Offer training to employees at all levels withing an organisation not just to those who are early in their careers or new to a role.
  • Build an internal mentoring system and support networks. Within peer groups there will be employees with lingering self-doubt and so the opportunity to reach out to trusted colleagues to share feelings is vital.
  • External mentoring provider services can help individuals recognise their abilities and to thrive within the workplace