Employees with Imposter Syndrome May Experience Mental Health and Performance Issues
Do you ever feel like you are a “fraud”? Like you are not qualified or knowledgeable enough to be in your role or to carry out your responsibilities? Do you dismiss or discount positive feedback from others? Do you attribute your successes to “luck” or “good timing”? If you have ever had any of these thoughts, you are not alone. You may be experiencing the imposter phenomenon, sometimes called “imposter syndrome.”
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a condition where high-achieving individuals fail to internalize their accomplishments and have persistent self-doubt and fears about being exposed as frauds or imposters, according to the Journal of Mental Health and Clinical Psychology. It is not an official medical or psychiatric diagnosis, but it is a real feeling that can cause symptoms of anxiety and depression, including an increased stress response, spiraling thoughts, and low self-esteem.
When clinical psychologists Clance and Imes first described imposter syndrome, they thought it was unique to high-achieving professional women, but since then research has shown that men also experience this feeling, and it affects individuals across the age spectrum (Journal of Mental Health and Psychology, 2020). The American Psychological Association reports that those who may be most susceptible are those who are embarking on new endeavors and facing new challenges, like new graduates, as well as some minority groups.
How Does Imposter Syndrome Affect Employees?
Imposter syndrome is significantly associated with worsened experiences in the workplace, says the Journal of Mental Health and Clinical Psychology, as it affects how employees perceive their accomplishments. Those who seek perfectionism or high levels of achievement may dismiss their successes and focus on their mistakes or perceived failures instead. As a result, they may experience higher levels of stress and burnout and decreased job performance and satisfaction. Those who question their legitimacy in a professional setting could be at even higher risk for adverse psychological outcomes that could affect their career and overall performance.
COVID-19 could also be increasing employees’ imposter syndrome, as the feelings of fraud have shown to increase when employees are faced with more responsibility and less supervision (Journal of Mental Health and Clinical Psychology, 2020). It has also been strongly associated with self-reported employee difficulty with managing work/life balance. As a result, healthcare workers, employees working from home, employees who are caregivers, and employees working at organizations with a reduced workforce may be more affected by imposter syndrome.
Unhelpful Thoughts Related to Imposter Syndrome
Thoughts are not facts, yet they have a powerful impact on our emotions and reactions to perceived events. Our perceptions and negative thoughts can turn feelings of worry into an unhelpful pattern of thinking. Specific cognitive distortions seen in people who report experiencing imposter syndrome include the following:
- Disqualifying the positive. E.g., That good thing doesn’t count because that bad thing happened.
- Black and white thinking (“perfectionism” thoughts) E.g., I do it right or not at all.
- Catastrophizing. E.g., I’m going to get fired for making this mistake.
To learn more about unhelpful thoughts and how to manage them, read our blog on Managing Negative Thoughts During a Pandemic.
What Can Employees Do?
- Recognize any unhelpful thinking patterns.
- Reflect on what tasks or activities might trigger these thoughts or this reaction.
- Don’t expect yourself to be perfect – try framing mistakes as learning opportunities and not a reflection of your worth.
- Keep a list of your accomplishments, positive feedback, and contributions. Try to refer to this list often to combat your negative thoughts.
- Take time for self-care, setting boundaries with working hours, and taking time to disconnect.
- Practice mindfulness to increase your ability to be non-judgmental and compassionate towards automatic thoughts. Try to see your thoughts as “mental events” rather than facts.
- Ask for evidence – if you are doubting yourself and your abilities, ask your manager, friends, or coworkers for feedback.
What Can Employers Do?
- Create a psychologically safe workplace where employees feel comfortable to take risks and make mistakes.
- Make recognition of employee contribution and accomplishment a regular practice so there is less room for doubt.
- Encourage employees to take breaks and limit interaction with work outside of work hours.
- Encourage your teams to praise and thank each other for the positive things they do in their day-to-day.
How Can Gowan Consulting Help?
Occupational Therapists are the ideal mental health professionals for supporting your employees. Their knowledge of the workplace allows them to help modify jobs and environments and give employees to tools to develop personal strategies. They are not just talk therapists—they are activity and strategy-based and they empower employees to take ownership of their function and productivity. They use strategies of work-focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is an evidence-based approach to ensuring that employees can have better self-care and resiliency.
Gowan Consulting is a national organization with more than 150 Occupational Therapists across Canada. We provide Occupational Therapy coaching virtually and onsite. Ease of access and proactive onsite or virtual support ensures that employees can stay at or return to work.
Mental Health Training
- Mindful May: FREE Mental Health Conversations Webinars – In May we are offering four free webinars on the topic of mental health. These 30-minute sessions will cover the topics of crisis fatigue, dealing with worry and uncertainty, mindfulness and self-care, and creating a psychologically healthy workplace. Sign up today to reserve your spot!
- Manager Mental Health Training is now running all year long! Our next session takes place on June 16, 2021. Get a full list of dates and more information on the sessions here.
- Manager’s Toolkit and Webinar – Our FREE Manager’s Toolkit now comes with a webinar to help provide strategies and resources for employees’ return to work post-quarantine.
Commentary: Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Imposter Syndrome: A Systematic Review, Dena M. Bravata et. al, Journal of Mental Health and Clinical Psychology, 2020, https://www.mentalhealthjournal.org/articles/commentary-prevalence-predictors-and-treatment-of-imposter-syndrome-a-systematic-review.html
Feel Like a Fraud?, Kirsten Weir, American Psychological Association, 2013, https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud