Imposter Syndrome: A Guide for HR and Managers

Not only does Imposter Syndrome profoundly affect individual employees, but it also significantly influences the overall health of an organisation.

As a manager or human resources (HR) professional, understanding the far-reaching impact of this syndrome is not just about employee welfare; it’s a strategic imperative. Effectively addressing Imposter Syndrome can lead to a more dynamic, confident and productive workforce. All of which contributes to the success and resilience of your organisation.

Understanding Imposter Syndrome

But what exactly is Imposter Syndrome, and how can you, as a leader in your organisation, identify and reduce its effects? Let’s dig a little deeper to enhance your understanding. That way, you’ll be better equipped to support your team, fostering an environment where everyone can thrive and contribute to their fullest potential.

Five ways employees feel like imposters

Identifying the type of Imposter Syndrome an individual is experiencing can greatly aid in tailoring effective interventions:

Perfectionist

Perfectionist: They set unattainably high standards for themselves. For instance, a manager might repeatedly rewrite a report, never feeling it meets their expectations.

Woman researching every detaiil.

Expert: They fear exposure as inexperienced or unknowledgeable. Consider an employee who researches excessively to answer a question, worrying their knowledge is inadequate.

Natural genius: They judge their worth based on how effortlessly and quickly they can accomplish tasks. A typical example is a young executive who feels embarrassed when they struggle to learn a new skill.

Soloist: They see asking for help as a sign of weakness or fraudulence. Envision a team leader who takes on more work than they can handle rather than delegating tasks.

Superperson: They push themselves to work harder than everyone else to prove they’re not impostors. An example is a manager who consistently works late, feeling they must outperform their colleagues.

Imposter symptoms

Recognising the signs of Imposter Syndrome in their teams is essential for managers. Such a condition often drives employees to overwork and over-deliver because of a fear of being exposed as a fraud, a pattern that can frequently lead to burnout. The first step towards offering effective intervention and support is identifying these symptoms.

Imposter checklist for managers

Use the following self-reflective questions whenever you have a hunch an employee might be struggling with feeling like an imposter.

Self-Reflective Questions BehaviourImposter TypeBenefits if helped
Is the employee often working longer hours than necessary, even when their work is complete?Staying late regularly, skipping breaks, working through lunch.SuperpersonImproved work-life balance leading to better overall health and reduced burnout risk.
Does the employee hesitate to share credit for success or downplay their achievements?Attribute success to luck or external factors, uncomfortable with praise.ExpertIncreased confidence and ownership of achievements, leading to stronger leadership qualities.
Is the employee reluctant to take on new challenges or projects for fear of failure?Avoiding new responsibilities, showing anxiety about new tasks.Natural GeniusEnhanced innovation and creativity, as employees feel safer to take risks and explore new ideas.
Do they avoid seeking help or collaboration, preferring to work alone?Reluctance to delegate, not participating in team discussions, or not asking for assistance.SoloistImproved teamwork and collaboration, fostering a more inclusive and supportive work environment.
Are they often critical of their own performance, even when they meet or exceed expectations?Self-critical comments, inability to accept compliments, focusing on minor flaws.PerfectionistEnhanced self-esteem and job satisfaction, contributing to higher employee retention rates.
Do they express feelings of being a fraud or not belonging in their role?Verbal expressions of self-doubt, comparing themselves unfavourably to others.ExpertStronger sense of belonging and loyalty, leading to a more cohesive and engaged team.
Does the employee seem overly stressed or anxious about making mistakes?Does the employee seem overly stressed or anxious about making mistakes?PerfectionistReduced anxiety levels, leading to a more positive workplace atmosphere and efficient decision-making.

How to help employees

  • Open communication: Foster an environment where open and honest communication is encouraged. Regular check-ins can help employees feel supported and valued.
  • Recognise and celebrate achievements: Acknowledge your team members’ minor and significant accomplishments. Doing so helps counteract feelings of fraudulence.
  • Promote a growth mindset: Encourage learning and development. Emphasise that challenges are growth opportunities, not evidence of incompetence.
  • Provide constructive feedback: Offer feedback focusing on effort and improvement rather than results. Doing so helps build a sense of competence and achievement.
  • Encourage team collaboration: Promote a culture where asking for help is seen as a strength, not a weakness. Encouraging this behaviour helps reduce the pressure of the ‘soloist’ syndrome.
  • Offer professional development opportunities: Provide access to training and workshops to help employees build confidence in their skills and abilities.
  • Model healthy work-life balance: Lead by example by maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Mentoring this way can help reduce the ‘superperson’ syndrome.
  • Support mental health: Encourage using mental health resources, including external counselling services, to provide professional support.

Tactfully addressing imposter syndrome: Example scenarios

Top performers often keep their feelings of Imposter Syndrome a secret, fearing that revealing their self-doubt might undermine their professional image.

Research shows that individuals with Imposter Syndrome are less likely to share their feelings because of the stigma associated with vulnerability in the workplace. Such behaviour makes it challenging for managers to start conversations about this sensitive topic.

However, here are three example scenarios to help you raise the subject of Imposter Syndrome tactfully:

During a performance review: “I’ve noticed you often work late and set very high standards for yourself. While your dedication is admirable, I want to ensure it’s coming from a healthy place. Sometimes, even our best employees can feel like they’re not measuring up. How do you feel about your achievements and our expectations of you?”

After a project completion: “Congratulations on the successful project delivery. I was impressed with your work, but I also noticed you seemed hesitant to celebrate the success. It’s common for high achievers to feel they could’ve done more, even when they’ve done exceptionally well. Do you ever feel this way?”

During one-on-one meetings: “You’ve been a valuable asset to our team, but I’ve observed that you rarely seek help and prefer to tackle challenges independently. It’s important to remember that asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. Have you ever felt that asking for help might change how others perceive your capabilities?”

When and how to refer an employee to counselling

Recognising when an employee might benefit from professional counselling and addressing it professionally is crucial.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Observe and document: Keep track of any changes in the employee’s performance, behaviour, or mood that suggest they might struggle with feeling like an imposter at work.
  • Choose the right moment: Find a private and comfortable conversation setting, ensuring enough time for a meaningful discussion.
  • Express concerns gently: Start by expressing your concern for their well-being. For example, “I’ve noticed some changes in your work habits and I’m concerned about how you might be feeling.”
  • Focus on behaviour and impact: Discuss specific behaviours and their implications without making assumptions about the cause. For instance, “I’ve observed you’ve been staying late to work on projects which makes me worry it might be affecting your work-life balance.”
  • Suggest counselling as an option: Introduce the idea of counselling as a resource, not a mandate. For example, “Have you considered speaking with a professional? I know of several trusted, independent counselling services that could provide support.”
  • Reassure them of confidentiality: Emphasise that counselling is confidential and is a sign of strength and self-awareness.
  • Offer support for the process: Let them know you are there to support them, whether it’s adjusting workloads or providing time off for appointments.
  • Follow up: After the initial conversation, check in with them to show continued support without pressuring them to take any specific action.

Boosting employee productivity, personal growth, and career advancement

Evidence-based therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) are powerful tools in overcoming Imposter Syndrome, leading to significant improvements in productivity, personal growth, and career advancement. Let’s explore how these therapies create impactful changes:

  • CBT techniques: CBT helps identify and challenge negative thought patterns like, “I’m a fake” , “It was just luck” or “I’m not good enough” replacing them with more realistic and positive ones. Creating a mind shift from unhelpful to positive thoughts leads to increased confidence in decision-making and problem-solving, essential for productivity and career progression.
  • ACT strategies: ACT focuses on accepting unhelpful thoughts and feelings without being overpowered by them. It encourages commitment to actions aligned with personal values and goals. This approach helps employees become more resilient and adaptable, fostering personal growth and navigating career challenges effectively.
  • Mindfulness practices: Incorporating mindfulness helps reduce stress and improve focus. Mindful practices teach employees to be present in the moment, enhancing their ability to concentrate and engage deeply with their work, leading to higher productivity and job satisfaction.
  • Skill development: These therapies also focus on developing personal and interpersonal skills, such as assertiveness, communication, and stress management, which are crucial for career advancement.
  • Goal setting and achievement: Setting realistic goals teaches employees to connect their successes to their abilities. Over time, this practice breaks the imposter cycle, leading to ongoing career success and satisfaction.

How Chat2Change Counselling can help

At Chat2Change Counselling, I specialise in addressing the complexities of Imposter Syndrome in the workplace. My approach is comprehensive:

  • Personalised support: I tailor sessions to meet the unique needs of each employee.
  • Safe online space for exploration: Through motivational interviewing, I encourage employees to discuss their feelings openly in a non-judgemental environment.
  • Strategic overcoming techniques: Using CBT, ACT, and mindful practices I develop effective strategies tailored to each employee’s unique needs for overcoming feeling like a fake.

Taking action is imperative if you’re a business or HR manager and suspect key employees might grapple with Imposter Syndrome.

Contact Chat2Change Counselling. I’m committed to providing the support your employees need to excel personally and professionally. Fostering a healthy mind is essential for a productive and positive workplace.

Related reading

Imposter Syndrome: Realise Your Potential

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