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Tackling Imposter Syndrome at Work: Quiet the Negative Voice in Your Head

By June 27, 2023 December 12th, 2023 No Comments

Imposter Syndrome at Work

Picture this: You’re a highly-skilled, intelligent individual who has consistently produced great work & steadily climbed the corporate ladder through years of hard work. But for some unknown reason, you can’t quiet the voice in your head telling you – you’re not good enough, you’re a phony, you don’t deserve this role…

Any of this resonate? If so, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome in the workplace, which is feeling inadequate or unqualified at work despite evidence to the contrary. Imposter syndrome is quite pervasive in the professional world even though it’s not often directly addressed by employers. Over 65% of professionals aren’t familiar with the term imposter syndrome but are very familiar with its symptoms with 75% of female executives reporting they’ve experienced imposter syndrome.

There are a few different types of imposter syndrome and symptoms to watch out for, which we’ll explore in this article. We’ll also provide tactics you can utilize to battle imposter syndrome in the workplace & quiet that self-critical voice in your head!

Pro-Tip from The Assist: Recognize and acknowledge the feeling. Even the most successful people experience imposter syndrome — the first step to overcoming it is to recognize that it’s happening in the first place.

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What is Imposter Syndrome?

At its core, imposter syndrome in the workplace is feeling inadequate or underqualified for your role despite evidence of the contrary.

Even though you’re quite seasoned, skillful, and successful in your role, you still feel deep down that you’re a fraud who could be called out for their lack of know-how at any moment. You may even feel like you’ve lucked into your role or accomplishments rather than earning them through hard work.

If any of this sounds familiar, chances are you’ve experienced some type of imposter phenomenon at some point in your career. There are a few distinct types of imposter syndrome that manifest themselves in different ways.

 

Different Types of Imposter Syndrome

The Perfectionist

The Perfectionist agonizes over how things are approached and can be a bit of a controlling force or micromanager. Perfectionists tend to be high-achievers who set very ambitious goals for themselves and if they don’t accomplish those goals, can be extremely hyper-critical of themselves & their capabilities. They often feel like every piece of work they produce must be 100% perfect all of the time and experience self-doubt or insecurity if it’s not.

Example: You’re working on a high-profile project and continue to rework the same 5 slides over and over – obsessing over every word in your presentation talk track, second-guessing the fonts & every visual. Before you know it, the deadline for the presentation is tomorrow and your deck is still incomplete because you were hyper-focused on making a handful of slides perfect, rather than the bigger picture.

The Natural Genius

The natural genius puts pressure on themselves to instantly be great at something on their first try and if they aren’t, they feel shame. Similar to perfectionists, they also set high standards for themselves but add an extra stress factor of nailing things on their first attempt. The majority of Natural Genius imposter types have easily excelled in many areas of their own life and are used to receiving validation or accolades for their successes. So, they tend to go into panic mode if they aren’t naturally great at something or if faced with an unfamiliar challenge or task.

Example: Your manager has assigned you a bit of a stretch project that falls slightly out of your area of expertise. In order to accomplish the project, you need to create a detailed project timeline with core milestone due dates, which is something you haven’t done before. You take a stab at creating the timeline but when you present it to your manager, they have quite a few edits & feedback for improvement which causes you to spiral and feel like you’ve completely failed the task altogether.

The Individualist

As the name suggests, this imposter syndrome type feels pressure to accomplish things completely on their own and therefore does not like asking for help or leaning on others. Individualists, or soloists, consider asking for help as a sign of weakness that may indicate to others that they’re merely imposters in their role. They also tend to focus on the “who” of a task rather than the “what” which can cause issues with delegation & an aversion against pulling in additional resources that may be needed for success.

Example: Your manager has placed you in charge of establishing a new business process to improve collaboration across disparate work streams at the company. You decide you can create this new workflow on your own without input from anyone else. When you go to implement the new workflow, you run into massive pushback from department leads because they were not consulted at any point during the creation of this new process & it doesn’t align with their actual day-to-day outputs.

The Expert

The expert is fearful of lacking knowledge. They never think they know enough about a topic even if they truly do have an extensive background & expertise in the field. They tend to measure their success by knowing everything there is to know about a certain subject and if they don’t know something, even if it’s a minor, may feel intense feelings of shame or self-doubt. Of course, it’s great to continually learn & sharpen your skills, but not to the point where it diminishes your confidence and becomes a form of procrastination instead.

Example: You’re in the process of searching for a new job and during your interview prep, you notice they are seeking someone with experience on a particular software program and would love it if the applicants are certified users of that platform. You do have a few years of experience using said software in your current role & people on your team even come to you for advice when they run into issues. However, you don’t personally consider yourself an expert & you aren’t certified in the platform, so you decide not to move forward with the job application.

The Superhero

The Superhero feels the need to be everything to everyone at all times and feels guilty if they can’t please everybody. They usually wear many hats and juggle multiple roles & responsibilities at once, setting unreasonable expectations for themselves to excel in all of them. Superhero imposter types also tend to work extra hours, pushing themselves to their physical & emotional limits, in an effort to prove their worth. This can lead to employee burnout and a lack of work-life balance.

Example: You’re consistently working far more than 40 hours a week and haven’t complained. In fact, you’ve volunteered to stay late at the office multiple times this week to tackle tasks that aren’t necessarily urgent. Because you’re prioritizing work over all else, you had to cancel plans with your friends & family as well. Rather than say anything to your manager or scale back on work, you continue to go above and beyond and make personal sacrifices to prove your value at work.

 

7 Signs of Imposter Syndrome at Work

1. Constant Self-Doubt

If you’re experiencing overwhelming or incessant feelings of self-doubt, this could be a sign of imposter syndrome. You may be doubting your skills or ability to succeed in your job despite having a proven track record of doing well. Experiencing constant self-doubt can have a negative effect on your self-confidence & cause low self-esteem both in the workplace and in your personal life.

2. Overworking

Another sign of imposter syndrome is overworking to the point where you’re pressuring yourself to put in 110% effort all the time. For example, you may be logging on super early in the morning and staying glued to your computer late into the night. This level of overworking isn’t sustainable and causes you to overlook the importance of work life balance.

3. Fear of Failure

While fear of failure alone may not be a tell-tale sign of imposter syndrome, if you’re feeling crippled or overwhelmed by that fear, you may indeed be experiencing imposter syndrome. The fear of failure is typically unfounded or magnified in this case and can prevent you from putting your best foot forward.

4. Difficulty Accepting Praise

Imposter syndrome can manifest itself as an inability to accept praise because you don’t think you’re worthy of that praise or validation. You may feel like your work is never good enough which makes it hard for you to accept compliments from your team members. You may also second guess the good things that happen to you at work, such as promotions, convincing yourself you don’t deserve them.

5. Comparing Yourself to Others

Comparing yourself to others is another potential symptom of imposter syndrome in the workplace. Are you constantly comparing yourself against your colleagues? Perhaps you see them as being far more advanced than you are, even though you have just as much experience & knowledge as they do. Despite your proven track record of success and positive evaluations, you still see yourself as a failure who doesn’t measure up to others.

6. Persistent Anxiety

Everyone experiences some points of anxiety throughout their career, but if you’re experiencing persistent, non-stop levels of anxiety this could very well be a symptom of imposter syndrome. Your anxiety may stem from specific work tasks, but more likely it originates from a deeper anxiety about your capabilities and self-worth.

7. Reluctance to Take on Challenges

If you feel like an imposter who isn’t qualified to be in their role, then of course you’re going to be hesitant to take on new challenges. Passing up opportunities to challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone can ultimately hold you back from reaching the next milestone in your career. If you’re fortunate enough to have a manager who has the qualities of a good leader, they hopefully can provide the nudge needed to take on challenges without fear of failure.

 

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

Overcoming imposter syndrome doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a gradual process that will take time, self-awareness, and practice. Here are 10 effective strategies you can begin implementing today to not only tackle imposter syndrome at work but also improve overall employee satisfaction too!

Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Celebrating your accomplishments is a super effective way to help combat imposter syndrome because it forces you to take a step back and appreciate your hard work and the success that stems from it. Even if recognition in the workplace isn’t super prevalent at your company, it’s important to make it a priority to recognize your own wins.

Embrace Failure as Learning

What better way to tackle a fear of failure than embracing your failures and using them as learning opportunities? In fact, if you fail 15% of the time, you enhance your learning & find motivation to succeed moving forward. By reframing your viewpoint around failure, it’s no longer proof that you’re an imposter but instead an area for further growth.

Challenge Negative Self-Talk

Sometimes your toughest critic is you. Try to quiet that critical voice in your head by challenging negative self-talk. In fact, take it a step further and swap out those negative thoughts for daily positive affirmations instead! Positive affirmations can help boost your confidence and set an optimistic tone for your work day.

Seek Feedback and Support

Rather than shying away from feedback or support, like someone experiencing the individualist imposter syndrome, try to embrace feedback & help from others. This may be particularly challenging to do in a remote workplace setting, but it can absolutely be done. Perhaps find a mentor you respect who can provide helpful career advice for women if you’re facing roadblocks. The more open you are to feedback & support from colleagues, the less you’ll worry about doing everything perfectly on your own.

Focus on Progress, Not Perfection

If you find yourself hyper-focusing on perfection, try pivoting and focusing on the everyday progress you make instead. Every single task you do does not have to be perfect each and every time. Take some time to acknowledge the smaller steps you take each day to reach your overall goals. If you’re feeling like you’re not making enough progress or progressing too slowly, take a peek at these motivational quotes for employees to give you the extra boost needed to get back on track!

Practice Self-Compassion

When you’re suffering from imposter syndrome in the workplace, it’s far too easy to be extra hard on yourself and your work performance. Give yourself the credit you deserve and practice self-compassion when you’re feeling overwhelmed or doubting yourself. Extend to yourself the same compassion you show others when they’re having a hard time. Sometimes being your own cheerleader is just what you need to combat the symptoms of imposter syndrome.

Visualize Success

Visualizing success is another effective way to quell feelings of inadequacy stemming from imposter syndrome. Visualizing yourself in control of your future can have a powerful effect on boosting self-confidence and motivation. A study found that 67% of employees surveyed believed that they had a greater chance of achieving their goals if they first visualize them.

Reflect on Positive Feedback

When you’re experiencing symptoms of imposter syndrome, you tend to only hear negative or critical feedback and block out any positive comments received. Shake that habit by taking the time to appreciate and reflect on the positive feedback you hear. Reflecting on these positive comments not only helps quell imposter syndrome but can boost your overall engagement levels as well. According to Gallup, employees who strongly agreed they received meaningful feedback in the past week were almost four times more likely than others to be engaged.

Engage in Self-Care Activities

Neglecting your well-being is another unfortunate impact of imposter syndrome. When you’re bombarded with feelings of anxiety and self-doubt, the last thing on your mind is prioritizing your mental and physical health. Explore some self-care ideas to find a few that will work for you!

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Stepping outside of your comfort zone is a great way to help challenge the expert imposter syndrome type. Taking on tasks or projects outside your comfort zone will push you to recognize that you’re not going to be instantly amazing at every new thing you try and that is completely okay.

 

People Also Ask These Questions About Imposter Syndrome at Work

Q: Can you provide any resources, books, or workshops to help individuals cope with imposter syndrome?

  • A: In addition to the tips in this article, The Imposter Cure: Escape the mind-trap of imposter syndrome by Dr. Jessamy Hibberd & The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: And Men: Why Capable People Suffer from Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive In Spite of It by Valerie Young are two books that can help individuals cope with imposter syndrome.

Q: To what extent do professionals in various industries experience imposter syndrome?

  • A: Professionals in various industries experience imposter syndrome in different ways & to different extents. That said, up to 65% of professionals experience imposter syndrome, so it is quite a prevalent issue in the workplace.

Q: What are the potential negative effects of imposter syndrome on job performance and mental well-being?

  • A: The potential negative effects of imposter syndrome on job performance and mental well-being can be quite vast. If ignored, imposter syndrome can decrease the quality & speed of employee outputs and negatively impact employee well-being & mental health.

Q: Are there specific personality traits or demographic groups more prone to experiencing imposter syndrome?

  • A: Generally, yes, there are specific personality traits or demographic groups more prone to experiencing imposter syndrome. Professionals with a history of overachieving with ease & perfectionism and women, particularly the high-achieving women at executive levels, may be more prone to imposter syndrome. If you are a woman experiencing imposter syndrome, check out some of our favorite newsletters for women including one of our all-time faves, The Assist.

Q: How can organizations and managers support employees who struggle with imposter syndrome in the workplace?

  • A: Organizations and managers can support employees struggling with imposter syndrome in the workplace by creating safe spaces for their employees to voice their feelings of self-doubt without fear of reprimand. Having weekly check-ins with open and honest dialogue between managers and their direct reports is a great opportunity to flag and address symptoms of imposter syndrome as they appear.

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