Imposter syndrome can cause employees to lose confidence in their ability to do their role and stop them from applying for new roles or promotion.

At a time when skills shortages mean employers need their most talented people to put themselves and their ideas forward, one in five people are choosing not to work.

Senior women are amongst those most likely to be leaving the workforce prematurely, with 20% fewer women applying for new jobs than their male counterparts overall.

Imposter syndrome, which research shows has caused 90% of women to experience the feeling of ‘not being enough’ is a key factor. Increasing stress and anxiety levels and causing those affected to feel like they’re ‘faking it’. Even when they’ve proven themselves capable.

For employers that want to attract and retain a skilled and diverse workforce, tackling imposter syndrome is now a top priority. So our blog this month looks at three simple things you can do to help employees overcome imposter syndrome.

Three ways to help employees overcome imposter syndrome

1. Normalise the problem

Imposter syndrome is about people losing confidence in the role they are doing, the decisions they make and judgement calls. Even though they are qualified and know what they are doing, this can stop people from going for promotions or new roles and make them feel like they’re not worthy when they are. Especially if there’s a lack of other individuals they can identify with already working in that role or for that industry.

Critical to addressing the problem is acknowledging that these feelings are normal and bringing them out into the open. By explaining that even people at the top of their game, including Taylor Swift and Richard Branson, sometimes struggle with imposter syndrome, you can help destigmatise the topic. Reassuring employees that it’s normal to sometimes feel like they don’t deserve the role they have and inspiring them to look into developing coping strategies to manage these feelings instead.

2. Provide recognition and reassurance

There are lots of underlying reasons driving imposter syndrome. These can include family make-up, social anxiety, perfectionism and personality traits. As well as events in the past, such as the education system or a former employer only providing recognition when the person was generating a high level of attainment, leading the individual to feel like they need to be constantly attaining to feel validated.

Although this can lead to high levels of achievement, it can also cause employees to set the bar impossibly high for themselves, leading to high levels of anxiety and perfectionism, causing them to feel like they’re failing or don’t deserve the opportunity they have been given. To help them overcome this, encourage managers to ensure people aren’t putting impossible expectations on themselves. As well as praise employees for what they’ve already achieved, instead of just looking at what’s yet to be done. Plus, reward people for their approach to problems and ability to deal with setbacks, rather than just results generated.

3. Educate employees how to cope

Imposter syndrome is very much an invisible syndrome, so many employees might not even be aware when they’re getting stressed or anxious due to this. Help employees recognise the symptoms. Which typically include feeling like they need to be exceptional to be accepted, which can lead to perfectionist tendencies, fear of failure and discounting success. Educate them how this can have a negative impact on their performance due to increased anxiety levels.

Workshops can be used to bring employees and their manager together to develop coping strategies, such as asking their manager, or someone else they trust, to act as a sounding board to gain a more objective perspective. For employees whose impostor syndrome is driven by low self-esteem or being told they had to ‘be more’ during their childhood, access to a counsellor, via an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) can be helpful. Providing them with an opportunity to explore negative thought-patterns and understand how the pressure they’re putting on themselves is undermining their wellbeing and performance.

Katy Cullum is head of mediation, training and consultancy at PAM Wellbeing

Free webinar: Helping employees to overcome imposter syndrome 

12pm, Tuesday 6th September 2022

Grab a coffee and join our free Imposter Syndrome Webinar, to learn more about:

  • How to spot employees who might be struggling with imposter syndrome
  • Strategies for holding supportive conversations with individuals
  • The role of managers for helping employees overcome imposter syndrome
  • Seven steps for coping with imposter syndrome to pass on to employees

The webinar will be hosted by Adam Brazendale (MBACP), one of our senior mental health trainers and psychotherapists.

Find out more and register