5 ways of dealing with Imposter Syndrome at work

High performers are likely to feel like phonies if they find themselves unable to deliver their best at work due to markedly lofty expectations

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It is very common to experience self-doubt at work when one’s confidence is low and the work too much.

A feeling of failure and underachievement does set in at some point in our lives. Most of the time, we manage to get over this by motivating ourselves to work harder and looking at better prospects in the future. However, when this feeling becomes persistent, it gives birth to the Imposter Syndrome.

Simply put, the Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern wherein people begin to lose faith in their achievements, skills and talents. They become victims of a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as frauds, imposters or phonies.

Self-doubt: Even though there is ample evidence of their achievements, those suffering from the Imposter Syndrome give in to the belief that they don’t deserve their success, and that they could be ousted from their job any moment.

“Employees who do not have clarity of purpose may also be vulnerable to feeling that they have not done enough work at their organisation to merit any success”

Emmanuel David, HR leader

Relationship issues: Imposter Syndrome not only interferes with a person’s performance at work but also makes it difficult for them to maintain relationships. The constant feeling of guilt that they can’t keep up with the work and maintain high performance levels creates an invisible barrier when it comes to their daily interactions. They are often unable to communicate their feelings because they think doing so may get them in trouble.

Fear of job loss: In many instances, employees may start feeling scared that their decreased concentration at work will result in disasters and get them fired, which further feeds their inability to work.

High expectations: Imposter syndrome can afflict anyone at the workplace. In fact, the high achievers are especially vulnerable to it because they are expected to consistently perform well. The constant need to prove themselves and be the best in one’s field can have adverse effects.

There are, of course, ways of keeping this syndrome at bay by ensuring the following:

1. Inclusive culture: “Organisations need to create a more inclusive culture where employees feel that their voices are heard,” advises Amit Sharma, CHRO, Volvo Group India.

“Employees tend to give importance to the kind of cues — negative or positive — they receive from their seniors for their work. If their managers provide negative cues even when the work is good, or fail to give any feedback at all, their confidence is bound to go down,” explains Sharma.

“Employees tend to give importance to the kind of cues — negative or positive — they receive from their seniors for their work. If their managers provide negative cues even when the work is good, or fail to give any feedback at all, their confidence is bound to go down”

Amit Sharma, CHRO, Volvo Group India

2. Recognition & appreciation: If managers recognise their efforts, appreciate them, listen to them, and ensure that they feel valued at team meetings, then the employees will get the required confidence boost and refrain from doubting themselves so often, explains Sharma.

Since employees themselves are often incapable of approaching people for help, it is up to the seniors to be constantly on the outlook for any signs of stress or self-doubt.

3. Addressing stress: Rajesh Nair, executive president and CHRO, Polycab India, says, “The senior managers should be vigilant and try to recognise signs of stress in an employee during meetings, and one-to-one conversations.”

“If they feel that someone from their team has been feeling ‘off’ or seeking assurance for their work directly or indirectly, they need to immediately turn to them and do everything possible to keep their doubts at bay,” he points out.

It is the senior managers’ role to identify any visible signs of lowered confidence in their employees and interact with them in a way that makes them feel secure. “By constantly reviewing their employees’ work, the managers can keep a check on their performance levels as well and spot the dip whenever it happens,” suggests Nair.

Imposter syndrome can also arise if people feel adrift at a particular moment and are unable to pin point the exact reason for their discontent.

“If managers feel that someone from their team has been feeling ‘off’ or seeking assurance for their work directly or indirectly, they need to immediately turn to them and do everything possible to keep their doubts at bay”

Rajesh Nair, executive president and CHRO, Polycab India

4. Constant reassurance: Emmanuel David, HR leader, says “What employees need most from their employers is reassurance about their work. And if they don’t get it, they find themselves doubting their achievements”.

5. Clarity of purpose: “Employees who do not have clarity of purpose may also be vulnerable to feeling that they have not done enough work at their organisation to merit any success,” says David. Organisations can deal with this by helping employees see clearly again. According to David, “Organisations can help employees regain their purpose through direct conversations that bring their issues to the surface so that they can be addressed”.

Imposter Syndrome can be debilitating and restrict employees from seeking help. The overwhelming feeling of failure and the resultant shame prevents them away from talking to their seniors or meeting professionals who may be able to treat their condition.

In such a situation, it is the organisation’s responsibility to not only provide necessary help to the employees, but also to hold their hand until they emerge onto the bright side with their self-confidence restored.

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