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Top tips for HR teams to tackle imposter syndrome in the workplace

Imposter syndrome needs to be brought into the spotlight in workplace conversations, says Jill Whittaker, Executive Chair at The Executive Development Network. By knowing the symptoms and which colleagues may be more at risk, employers can better support and empower their employees with tools to combat the condition.

Half of all UK adults have experienced imposter syndrome at work, and employers aren’t doing enough to tackle the issue. Imposter syndrome needs to be brought into the spotlight in workplace conversations, says Jill Whittaker, Executive Chair at The Executive Development Network. By knowing the symptoms and which colleagues may be more at risk, employers can better support and empower their employees with tools to combat the condition.

Given how widespread the condition is, not enough of us are talking about imposter syndrome. That sinking feeling of worry and anxiety, that others see you as a fraud while at work, is all too familiar for much of the UK workforce, at all seniority levels. In fact, recent research from The Executive Development Network (EDN) found that 50% of UK adults have experienced imposter syndrome at work.

While it’s easy to recognise these feelings when personally impacted, imposter syndrome can be extremely difficult to spot in our colleagues. A third of those surveyed assumed their managers never or rarely experienced it, when in reality over half have. This just shows the desperate need for us to be talking about the condition more openly.

What makes you more susceptible to imposter syndrome?
The first step in recognising imposter syndrome in the workplace is acknowledging the factors that might make an individual more at risk. As a short summary:

  • Women are more likely to experience imposter syndrome then men, and non-binary identifying individuals experiencing the condition the most.
  • Both Gen Z and Millennials were more than twice as likely to have experienced imposter syndrome than Gen X and over 59s.
  • Bisexual, Queer and Homosexual individuals were significantly more likely to experience imposter syndrome than average.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, your job sector has the highest impact whether or not you will have experienced imposter syndrome. The sectors with the highest levels of imposter syndrome are science & pharmaceuticals, marketing & PR, and recruitment & HR. These sectors are fast-paced and often deal with the wellbeing and livelihoods of other individuals. The sectors with the lowest levels of imposter syndrome are property & construction, transport & logistics, and engineering & manufacturing.

Tackling imposter syndrome head-on

The research found that the top trigger for imposter syndrome sufferers was comparing themselves to other people at work. While managers can’t prevent individuals from doing this, they can provide them with the correct feedback so that they are judging themselves fairly. Among the other methods for combating imposter syndrome, respondents found positive self-talk and setting more realistic expectations also helped reduce symptoms of the condition.

While these again can seem like personal factors that managers can’t influence, businesses can create a culture of celebration and reflection, where skills and achievements are acknowledged at an individual basis and expectations can be openly discussed. By being more open about these elements as a team, individuals are more likely to take these considerations into how they personally reflect on their own work, hopefully seeing themselves in a more positive light.

Looking at the sectors with lower levels of imposter syndrome provides another clue to what can help deal with imposter syndrome. The extensive technical training required to work in these sectors means that employees are more likely to feel qualified and confident in these roles and doubt themselves less.

The individuals who participated in the survey believed that training was one of the top solutions to help them combat imposter syndrome, including advice from a professional mentor, professional training to upskill and other development opportunities.

The issue is that because of the lack of conversation around imposter syndrome and the stigma associated with it, almost half of adults are not comfortable asking for training that they believe would help combat imposter syndrome.

This leaves it up to the employers to take charge and recognise the issue here. They need to integrate training into their day-to-day operations, especially highlighting longer courses and apprenticeships that are available to all levels of seniority. By offering regular training, businesses will create internal confidence ambassadors who will not only be better equipped to tackle it themselves, but to help spread awareness and helpful solutions across their teams.

Want to fortify your teams against imposter syndrome, but not sure where to start? For more information on The Executive Development Network course please visit https://edn.training/prescribing-success

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