Most of us are familiar with the occasional feeling of having been ‘lucky’ with an achievement. We also all experience moments of doubt about our ability to cope with a situation or worry about our capability when it comes to completing a task competently. For most of us, we work past it and get on with our day. I don’t want to downplay these moments, because frankly, they are awful, but they do pass, and most of us move on. For some, though, these feelings are so commonplace that it leads to an unfounded feeling that at any moment, someone will find out about our incompetence. A finger will be pointed, and we will be revealed as just ‘faking it’ on a daily basis. This is where the natural concern, anxiety and pressures of life can grow into what we often refer to as Impostor Syndrome.
In general terms, the feelings that accompany impostor syndrome will include:
- Fear your efforts will/are being seen as inadequate
- A constant feeling of self-doubt
- Unrealistic expectations of your own performance
- Overly high goal setting
- Unrelenting pressure to prove something
- Attributing success to external reason and underrating your own skills
- Overly critical view of your own performance.
It’s important to remember that all these feelings are commonplace in limited amounts. They could arguably be considered useful in some cases because they help us keep a sense of perspective. They act as a sort of balance to keeping us grounded. With Impostor syndrome, though, they grow to a level where they are counterproductive, destructive and can even feed the manifestation of conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders. When these feelings are strong enough, the internal pressures they create can start to affect and even define our approach to the workplace.
Impostor syndrome and inclusion
If you are part of a workforce that is not demonstrating an inclusive approach, you can be particularly vulnerable to self-worth issues. That feeling of ‘not being part of things’ very easily feeds anxiety and builds emotional pressure. That, in turn, can feed the feelings of self-doubt and lack of worth that accompany Impostor Syndrome. It’s a cycle that will only increase unless addressed. Clearly, there is a very human cost here in terms of diversity and inclusion.
For the individual, it will inevitably head towards a larger problem. The need to demonstrate competence becomes a need to demonstrate outstanding achievement. Burnout and exhaustion are soon on the cards. In other cases, the self-doubt that is a part of impostor syndrome can lead to self-sabotage or bursts of anger and frustration.
For a business looking to address impostor syndrome, the one early step is to recognise the link between the problem itself and inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. The need to constantly prove oneself will be mitigated, to some extent at least, in a fully equitable working environment because there is a benchmark to work from. Feeling accepted and of equal value and worth are the antithesis of impostor syndrome. Ensuring praise is clear and linked to specific personal results, a culture of open discussion where worries can be shared and assuaged, as well as empathy and understanding, will all help. What is vital is that achievement is recognised and praised but that this does not facilitate an expectation of excessive working.
Impostor syndrome is ultimately counterproductive and can lead to some serious issues professionally and personally for employees. It’s important to recognise and deal with it, particularly where it could be linked to a wider EDI issue.