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How to Help Employees Conquer Impostor Syndrome

Welcome back to the Pathway Blog! We’re excited to talk about this topic today – you might be surprised by how relevant it feels!

One of the most interesting phenomenon that has evolved from the digital age we’re living in is the evolution of words and terms that become quickly accepted by the world at large… even though their meanings have been around for a very long time! One of these phrases is “impostor syndrome.” While the term isn’t necessarily new (and the feeling is as old as time), the phrase has experienced a bit of a revival in the last few years, especially in the workplace.

What is “Impostor Syndrome?”

Oxford Languages defines impostor syndrome 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.”

To boil it down, impostor syndrome is when you feel you don’t deserve your success… that you are a “fraud” or an “impostor,” and that it’s only a matter of time before you get caught and outed as a fake.

While the term might seem new, the feeling certainly isn’t. How many times have you felt this way? Whether it’s in your job, your hobby… even within your family? The feeling of not being good enough, that you have somehow tricked everyone into thinking you’re qualified is more common than you might think!

Stopping impostor syndrome at work

As a manager or authority figure, you hold a great deal of power when it comes to helping your employees conquer their impostor syndrome and self-doubt. And while it might seem overwhelming, it’s a worthwhile effort to tackle. Confident employees often equal engaged employees, and that is priceless when it comes to productivity and morale. 

1. Evaluate your company culture.

While impostor syndrome often stems from an individual’s personal experiences, it’s important to make sure that your company culture doesn’t encourage further growth of it. Ensuring that your expectations for your staff are realistic and achievable — rather than punitive and overzealous — is a great way to prove to your employees that they can achieve their goals and that they do belong in their position. 

2. Learn the signs of impostor syndrome.

Self-doubt and feelings of fraudulence can show up in a lot of different ways, but there are a few signs that seem to be common when it comes to impostor syndrome. If you and your fellow managers or HR professionals can recognize these signs, you can begin engaging with these employees in an effort to build up their confidence. Some (but not all) signs of impostor syndrome are: 

  • Overachieving/workaholism
  • Self-sabotage
  • Inability to delegate duties
  • Attributing success to external factors

3. Acknowledge the existence (and power) of impostor syndrome. 

While it might be tempting to tell a suffering employee how great of a job they do, or dismiss their fears of being inadequate, the truth is that this aggressively optimistic approach might do more damage than good. Instead of brushing their concerns under the rug with praise, try acknowledging how difficult impostor syndrome can be, as well as how common and natural it is to experience it. Praise is always useful, of course, but when accompanied by a level of human understanding and connection, its benefits will be far more long-lasting.