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Andrea Lechner-Becker

The Presence of Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace

Andrea Lechner-Becker / February 26, 2020 / 0 Comments

Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace

For many people, the word imposter is reserved for spy movies or crime novels where a character is pretending to be someone that they are not. However, in recent years, studies have shown that this concept hits much closer to home than most people might think. In fact, Imposter Syndrome is quickly becoming a topic of discussion for professionals all over the globe.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is defined as “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills”. In a nutshell, it means people believe that they are getting lucky rather than working hard for their success. There are two main components that lead to this belief. One is social anxiety tied to a fear that you will perform poorly compared to your peers. The other is ambiguity, which is the feeling that you are proceeding forward without a clear cut plan, figuring it out as you go, and hoping you do well enough to have a good performance evaluation.

While it might seem like this syndrome would affect mostly young and inexperienced employees, the fact is that anyone can feel like they are lost in the dark without direction at times. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is a real way that people achieve success, and depending on how you self-define value, you might be more susceptible to Imposter Syndrome. Those who place value on the ability to create value tend to feel more confident as long as they feel like they are contributing. Those who define their value based on their hard work, education, or their position in the company are more susceptible to feeling as though they aren’t achieving success on the same level as their peers. 

Our team wanted to source data to see how many people are aware of imposter syndrome and how many people feel like they’ve experienced it or report feeling the symptoms of it. Our team surveyed 600 people to see what kind of insecurities they might have at work and how they feel like they are affected by this syndrome. Our insights are below!

Our Data Findings

Do you know what imposter syndrome is? Infographic

Overall, we found that 3 out of 4 people, whether they were male or female, were unaware of what Imposter Syndrome was. This was surprising to us, not only because there has been a fair amount of attention to this topic in recent years, but also because this topic is something typically thought of as a feminist issue. We were surprised to see that women were just as likely as men to say they weren’t sure what Imposter Syndrome is.

Do you feel like you’ve experienced imposter syndrome? Graphic

We found similar metrics for the percentage of people who had experienced Imposter Syndrome. It stands to reason that the correlation between not knowing what Imposter Syndrome was impacts the likelihood of people feeling as though they had experienced it before. However, somewhat surprisingly, more men reported that they have experienced Imposter Syndrome in the workplace before. According to Medical News Today, 70% of people will experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in their careers, and it appears that either people are not identifying the thoughts associated with the syndrome as a problem, or they aren’t reporting them.

Do you feel like people think that you’re more competent than you are? Graphic

Although very few people reported that they experience Imposter Syndrome in the workplace, the answers to other questions indicate that people are more susceptible to these feelings of inadequacy than they think. Nearly 60% of respondents reported that they feel like people believe they are more competent than they actually are. Only 17% of respondents said they never feel like people think that they’re more competent than they actually are.

Women in the Workplace Graphic

We asked questions about other aspects of Imposter Syndrome too and broke it down by gender. Nearly half of women report that they feel like they aren’t performing well enough at work in spite of the fact that they continue to see career success. 1 in 5 women say that at least fairly often they feel pressured to stay at work longer than other people to prove their commitment, and the same number say that fairly often they feel like they have to work harder than their peers to keep up.

Men in the Workplace Graphic

Men are actually only slightly less likely than women to say that they feel like they’re underperforming at work in spite of their success at least fairly often. They’re also basically just as likely to say they feel pressured to put in more hours and work harder than their peers to keep up at least fairly often. According to this data sample, it appears that Imposter Syndrome can affect men just as often and in similar ways as it does women.

Luck in the Workplace by Generation Graphic

Unsurprisingly, Millennials are the most likely generation to attribute their success in the workplace to luck. Around 50% of Millennials say that they think their success was luck at least sometimes. Generation X isn’t immune to the effect either though, in fact, over 40% of Generation X respondents said they also think it’s luck when they succeed at least sometimes. Baby Boomers are 20% more likely than either of the other generations to say they never feel like their success is due to luck.

How to Combat Imposter Syndrome

All of this goes to show that Imposter Syndrome can affect anyone. While your susceptibility might depend on age, race, or gender, feeling as though you are feeling your way along in the dark, you are not alone! Imposter Syndrome tends to stem from the following factors:

  • General anxiety about work performance.
  • A lack of awareness of what Imposter Syndrome is.
  • The pressure to work harder and longer.
  • Fear of job loss due to failure.

There are a few ways that you can combat imposter syndrome in your business, including the following practices:

  1. Provide effective training to new employees and ongoing refresher courses to current employees.
  2. Make sure the responsibilities of each role are clearly defined and available to employees for their reference.
  3. Educate your employees on the anxieties and symptoms associated with Imposter Syndrome.
  4. Have regular check-ins with employees to give encouragement, flag issues, and establish supervisors as a resource to be used rather than a boss to be feared.

While Imposter Syndrome might be a common workplace phenomenon, that doesn’t mean you or your employees have to fall into that trap of negative thinking. By giving your employees encouragement and the tools they need to do their jobs, you’ll be able to create a fantastic workplace culture that leads to creative results. 

At LeadMD, we are always working to foster creativity among our employees and we love giving our clients the benefit of those ideas! Looking for a new way to revamp your marketing strategy? Contact us here.


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