“Imposter Syndrome” in the Workplace
“Imposter Syndrome,” while not a diagnosable condition within the mental health community, is a widely-experienced phenomenon within the professional world in which a person feels a chronic sense of inadequacy and/or as if they are not truly qualified for their respective position (despite the person’s actual qualifications). “Imposter Syndrome” can be present among any demographic group; however, it is a mindset most commonly experienced among women and minority groups.
“Imposter Syndrome” can be displayed in a number of ways within the work environment, including seeking constant reassurance about one’s job performance, difficulty “speaking up” during staff meetings, “overachieving” behaviors, perfectionistic tendencies, working significantly longer hours than required or expected of one’s position, attendance issues (typically due to early “burn out” and/or workplace anxiety), and even mannerisms perceived as “arrogant” by coworkers (typically as a compensatory measure).
If feelings and/or behaviors caused by “Imposter Syndrome” are left unaddressed, these experienced negative feelings will only worsen, potentially leading to extreme job dissatisfaction, decreased self-esteem, depressive- and/or anxiety-related symptoms, and even quitting or being terminated from one’s place of employment.
Therefore, if you recognize “Imposter Syndrome” tendencies within your own workplace behaviors, here are some strategies that may assist you:
1. Objectively evaluate your work performance. Are you completing the tasks expected of you in a satisfactory and timely manner? Is your attendance satisfactory? What are your strengths and areas that challenge you? What are ways in which you wish to grow and advance in your career? Provide yourself with objective feedback in these areas on a regular basis. Implementing self-calming techniques, such as deep breathing, will assist in your ability to remain objective.
2. Practice compassionate yet constructive self-talk. Provide yourself with regular positive reinforcement regarding your work performance. In identifying areas of your job in which you are struggling, brainstorm constructive and realistic strategies to improve your performance (seeking feedback from others if needed). An example of compassionate yet constructive self-talk is as follows: “I did a great job stepping out of my comfort zone and taking a leadership role on this project; next time, I will keep my notes available so I am able to communicate my thoughts more clearly.”
3. Remind yourself that YOU were hired for this position. Unless you blatantly misrepresented yourself throughout the hiring process, your employer hired YOU based on your education, credentials, experience, personality traits, and/or other qualities deeming you capable of being successful in your current position. Provide yourself with daily reminders of your capability through positive self-talk and through objective evidence. For example, “Based on my education, experience, and leadership abilities, I
am capable of doing this job, and I deserve my position.” Many people find it helpful to write these daily reminders in a journal.
4. Seek support from others. As stated earlier, “Imposter Syndrome” is most commonly experienced among women and minority populations. It may be helpful to seek supportive resources specifically geared toward women and/or minority populations. These include, but are not limited to, mentors, peers, support groups, and community activism organizations.
5. Set boundaries. Many who experience “Imposter Syndrome” attempt to compensate for their perceived inadequacies by demonstrating “overachieving” behaviors. To minimize these tendencies, it is often helpful to establish a set work schedule and to make a pact with yourself to not lengthen your work hours unless required of your position or only as an occasional exception. Other strategies include delegating tasks (if appropriate), saying “no” to responsibilities outside of one’s job description, and asking for assistance and/or clarification if a particular task is unclear.
6. Establish or maintain appropriate work-life balance. It is critical that each of us engages in activities, interests, hobbies, relationships, etc., separate from our work environment. This is especially important among individuals experiencing tendencies of “Imposter Syndrome,” as the work environment is often a trigger for feelings of anxiety that extend well beyond the work day. Establish (or maintain) a consistent self-care routine that provides consistent fulfillment and feelings of relaxation and contentment for you.
If any of these techniques are especially challenging for you, or if you are experiencing difficulty coping with work-related stress, it may be helpful to seek the services of a mental health professional.
-Sierra Shapiro, MS, LPC
Sierra Shapiro is a staff psychotherapist at Marsh Psychology Group. You can reach her at 248-860-2024 or Sshapiro@marshpsychologygroup.com