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6 Ways Leaders Can Help Their Team Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Work

Imposter syndrome, though increasingly common, is a sneaky phenomenon that can make even your strongest employees feel inadequate. Here’s how you can help your staff beat it once and for all.

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What is imposter syndrome? 🧐

Imposter syndrome is defined as a person or people feeling as though they are “out of place” or “don’t belong” in their current role. People who suffer from imposter syndrome often feel they didn’t earn their role, promotion, or salary but came to it by “luck” instead of due to their hard work or merit.

What’s worse, people who struggle with imposter syndrome are often high-achieving employees who want the best for their organization. However, the feelings of imposter syndrome can cause a dip in their productivity and connection to their role. 

Imposter syndrome is a productivity killer that silently takes down employees with high potential.

And even though you know when your employees are right where they’re meant to be, it’s important to help your staff members overcome imposter syndrome (or nip it in the bud entirely before it even starts).

4 warning signs of imposter syndrome 🚨

If you notice your employees struggling with these 4 warning signs, it's likely imposter syndrome is the culprit:

1. Self-doubt 😥

If you notice your employees struggling with feelings of self-doubt or frequently second-guessing themselves, this may be a major indicator that they are negatively impacted by imposter syndrome. 

This is a dangerous road to go down because self-doubt can easily lead to a team member making silly mistakes and feeling a lack of motivation in the workplace. You can curb self-doubt by… 

  • Offering positive feedback and framing any constructive criticism as a conversation. 💁
  • Praising employees doing a great job (bonus points for doing it publicly, like in a round of Kudos). 🥳
  • Frequently checking in with your team members to gauge where their confidence is! 💬

2. Attributing personal success to external factors 🙅

If you have an employee who just can’t seem to take a compliment, they might not just be a humble person. Pay attention to see if someone constantly attributes their success to external factors such as their team members, upbringing, or the support system around them. They might be suffering from a bit of imposter syndrome in the workplace.

Of course, a great team and robust support system are leading success factors, but when someone is outstanding, they deserve to feel proud of their successes. 

3. Burnout & lack of engagement 😴

Suzanne Imes found that high achieving women overwhelmingly experience the imposter phenomenon. 

In a recent Deloitte survey, almost half of the polled women reported feeling burnt out in the workplace, with roughly 52% of all workers feeling burnt out. 

And though the increasing number of team members experiencing burnout across the board may be due to other factors, burnout is also a major sign that someone is suffering from imposter syndrome. 

People who feel they don’t belong in the workplace will try to overcompensate for their feelings of being an imposter by overworking themselves. It’s no secret that this leads to burnout, fast.

4. Decline in mental health 😫

In the same vein as burnout, employees suffering from imposter syndrome may also feel a decline in their mental health. Can you imagine how draining it is to feel like an outsider for 40 hours a week? Imposter syndrome is bound to harm any employee’s mental health, with symptoms such as:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Depression
  • Exacerbation of existing mental health struggles

6 ways managers can prevent imposter syndrome 🙌

1. Make it easy to ask for help 🗣

Asking for help is difficult for anyone, but it’s the responsibility of your organization’s leadership to make it as easy as possible. Your team should be comfortable turning to your leadership for guidance, help when under pressure, stress management, or advice on navigating their career path. 

Ensure that your leadership is available and willing to give feedback and support and encourage their teams to come to them for guidance whenever needed. Moreover, make sure your leaders always promote an environment of communication and openness

Pro-tip: Supporting your team goes beyond giving your time — it’s about creating a culture of communication, trust, and comfort.

2. Give consistent feedback 👍

Employees want to know how they’re performing outside of a quarterly or yearly performance review. 

Give consistent, constructive, and positive feedback to your team members as regularly as you can. When people hear what they can improve upon and feel their big and small wins are being celebrated, they are more likely to feel like they belong in their role. This can look like:

  • Having regular, casual 1:1 check-ins with team members. 💬
  • Hosting team building activities about feedback and constructive conversation workshops. 🗣
  • Scheduling casual performance reviews that don’t hold any stakes, but instead make sure everyone is aligned with future goals. 👀

3. Recognize & reward your employees ⭐️

Recognizing great work is more than sending the occasional thumbs up emoji over Slack. 

Publicly and proudly recognize and award employees who are consistently doing quality work. Not only is this a great way to support those who may be experiencing imposter syndrome, but it also helps to foster a culture of positivity and helps reduce employee turnover rates.

4. Support employees as decision-makers 🤝

Just because things are okay as they are right now, doesn’t mean they can’t be better with a little decision-making done by those on the ground. In fact, the employees working through the day-to-day and actively on the ground most likely have the best ideas to improve your organization's operations. In turn, this makes work more efficient and enjoyable for everyone! 🙌

Whenever possible, allow your employees to make decisions about their roles, responsibilities, and processes, and watch your organization improve for the better. These don’t have to be huge decisions. This can look like:

  • Delegating team and client decisions to trusted employees. 🤲
  • Allowing team members freedom and flexibility in their schedules and workflows. 🗓
  • Asking employees to set their own priorities in the workplace. 📝
  • Allowing employees to delegate work as-needed. 👯

5. Normalize self-doubt, but coach them through it 💪

There’s nothing wrong with occasional self-doubt. We’d wager that just about everyone has experienced it in the workplace at one time or another. It’s a sign you want to do better! 

The difference between imposter syndrome and occasional self-doubt is leadership that knows how to coach their employees.

Ensure that your leadership is well-versed in walking your employees through struggles and helping them become stronger and more confident employees!

6. Be specific in positive affirmations 🥰

People like to hear specific, positive praise. Especially in the workplace.

“You’re doing great” is peanuts compared to “I loved the way you explained X, Y, and Z in the all-hands earlier. You are a great communicator.”

Specific praise and positive affirmations allow your employees to grasp their natural talents and understand their individual strengths as a part of the team.

Uplift employees with Confetti 🥳

If your team members feel the pull of the imposter phenomenon, they might need a little fun in their lives. 

At Confetti, we have just the thing to perk your teammates up and get them back on their A-game. From team building activities to communication workshops, Confetti has the fun, work-friendly activities you need to make everyone feel at home as a part of their team. 

Book your next event directly on our website or reach out to plan@withconfetti.com today! 

Frequently Asked Questions ❓

Is it normal to have imposter syndrome at work? 🤔

Yes! Imposter syndrome is completely normal and not something to feel ashamed of. In fact, over 70% of people say they have experienced feelings of imposter syndrome in the workplace. If you or your staff members are experiencing feelings of imposter syndrome, we encourage you to talk about it with your management and figure out the best way to work through it.

How common is imposter syndrome in the workplace? 🤨

Experiencing imposter syndrome in the workplace is more common than you’d think. It’s likely that everyone will feel imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. Though there will be good days and bad days (because you’re human, after all), if the feelings of imposter syndrome are persistent make sure that you talk to someone that can help you feel more comfortable and confident in your role.

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