Impostor syndrome at work: causes and how to overcome it

Impostor syndrome turns a person into their own enemy, affecting their work relationships and professional career. Some of the symptoms...
22 August 2023

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Impostor syndrome at work: causes and how to overcome it

Impostor syndrome turns a person into their own enemy, affecting their work relationships and professional career. Some of the symptoms experienced by individuals affected by this psychological phenomenon include low self-esteem, fear of failure, guilt over success, and paralyzing insecurity.

The good news is that impostor syndrome can be overcome, and in this article, we will discuss it in detail.

In this post we will share information about impostor syndrome, its causes, and provide tips to help you overcome it, whether personally or for your teams.

What is the impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which a competent person believes they are not competent and perceives themselves as a fraud

This phenomenon feeds off their success. In other words, the more successful the person becomes, the stronger the impostor syndrome grows, despite having the necessary abilities to fulfill their assigned responsibilities.

Impostor syndrome at work: causes and how to overcome it

This state constantly instills fear in the person of being exposed, affecting their decision-making abilities.

For women, impostor syndrome takes on a special dimension in sectors historically attributed to men or in significant positions within an organization.

To some extent, impostor syndrome is inversely linked to the Dunning-Kruger effect, where the most incompetent individuals overestimate their abilities.

Does it happen at specific sectors or professions?

Impostor Syndrome can occur in various sectors and professions, but some sectors are more commonly associated with its occurrence. These sectors include:

  1. Technology and STEM Fields: Impostor Syndrome is frequently reported among individuals working in technology, science, engineering, and other STEM-related fields. These industries often have high standards and require continuous learning, leading individuals to doubt their abilities despite their achievements.
  2.  Creative Industries: Professionals in creative fields such as art, music, writing, and design may experience Impostor Syndrome due to the subjective nature of their work and the prevalence of self-comparison. The fear of not being “talented enough” or the belief that their work is not original can contribute to feelings of being a fraud.
  3. Academia and Research: Impostor Syndrome is prevalent in academia, including professors, researchers, and graduate students. The rigorous academic environment, constant evaluation, and the pressure to produce original and groundbreaking work can contribute to self-doubt and feelings of intellectual inadequacy.
  4. Leadership and Executive Positions: People in leadership roles or high-level executive positions may experience Impostor Syndrome due to the increased visibility, responsibility, and expectations associated with their positions. They may fear being exposed as incompetent despite their qualifications and accomplishments.
  5. Entrepreneurship and Startups: Entrepreneurs and individuals working in startups often face significant challenges and take risks. The uncertainty and constant need to prove oneself in a competitive environment can contribute to feelings of being an impostor.

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What causes impostor syndrome?

The main causes of impostor syndrome are related to a person’s low self-esteem and insecurity, as well as experiences such as:

  • Taking on new responsibilities for which they have limited experience.
  • Having negative experiences in the past that resulted in poor outcomes.
  • Excessive self-demand, leading individuals to set unattainable goals. This is known as the Superman or Superwoman effect because these individuals, lacking confidence in their abilities and competencies, set excessively high goals that require exhausting efforts.
  • Having a mediocre academic background not seemingly suited for a specific job or growing up under significant pressure from family regarding success.

These factors undermine people’s self-esteem, leading to episodes of chronic sadness, anxiety, negativity, dissatisfaction, or fear.

How to overcome the impostor syndrome?

How does impostor syndrome affect work relationships?

The symptoms experienced by individuals suffering from impostor syndrome influence all aspects of their lives, including their work.

In this sense, the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy comes into play. When a person believes they are incapable of doing something, their chances of failing increase.

This dynamic leads to a cycle of dissatisfaction and constant alertness to avoid being exposed.

Experiencing impostor syndrome in a work environment affects in various ways:

  • Complicated relationships: Constant vigilance and fear of failure cause individuals to lose trust in others.
  • Career plan failure: Self-limitation prevents individuals from thriving, leading to increasing demotivation.
  • Low productivity: The constant state of insecurity hampers an individual’s performance.
  • Loss of commitment: Feeling guilt even for achieved accomplishments gradually causes individuals to disengage from projects.

How to overcome the impostor syndrome?

If you or your team members start experiencing the symptoms we have discussed, it is important to take certain measures to overcome impostor syndrome or seek the help of professionals in cognitive-behavioral psychology.

Conduct Objective Evaluation Assessments

Objective assessments, such as 360-degree evaluations, help individuals with impostor syndrome reconsider their capabilities by providing a broader perspective beyond self-analysis.

Foster a Communication-Friendly Climate

Impostor syndrome affects communication with other members of the company, as mentioned earlier, leading to an uneasy work atmosphere.

Therefore, creating a context that encourages the open expression of emotions is crucial.

By doing so, individuals experiencing impostor syndrome can feel confident to discuss their emotions, preventing them from falling into a cycle that magnifies errors or feelings of failure.

What causes impostor syndrome?

Implement an Adapted Coaching Program

Methods for employee development, such as grow coaching, can assist individuals in overcoming impostor syndrome.

This type of coaching focuses on setting goals and analyzing various variables, such as starting point, available resources and options, as well as the individual’s willingness and commitment.

Incorporate Technological Solutions

Technology can be a great ally in your Human Resources strategies and a powerful tool to detect and help overcome impostor syndrome.

There are specialized software solutions that create conducive environments for exchange and can help you build a constructive feedback culture within your company.

In line with this, our proctoring plans provide the possibility to create secure and respectful online supervision environments, reinforcing trust in the company.

Request a free demo to discover the adaptable and innovative solutions we can offer you.


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