What is impostor syndrome and how to combat it

Published on 16/02/2024

What is impostor syndrome and how to combat it

Published on 16/02/2024
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What is impostor syndrome and how to combat it

Today, many professionals experience a persistent feeling of doubt about their achievements and abilities, also known as impostor syndrome. This phenomenon can affect anyone, regardless of their level of success or position within the company, including HR directors who seek to foster a healthy and productive work environment.

In this article, we will look at what impostor syndrome is, its causes, and how to combat it.

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which individuals doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” Despite having external evidence of their competencies, individuals with this syndrome attribute their success to luck or to having deceived others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

This syndrome was first identified in the 1970s by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. They observed this pattern among a group of highly successful women who, despite their academic achievements, believed they were not really intelligent and had fooled someone into thinking otherwise. Over time, research expanded its scope, realizing that this syndrome is not limited to one gender and is independent of the success level of the person suffering from it.

And, how does it manifest?

Impostor syndrome manifests in various ways, including self-devaluation, fear of failure, and the tendency to minimize one’s own success. Affected individuals often work harder to prevent others from discovering their “fraud,” leading to a cycle of stress and burnout. Interestingly, success does not alleviate their doubts; on the contrary, it can intensify feelings of being an impostor.

Causes of impostor syndrome

The causes of impostor syndrome are varied and can differ significantly. However, there are several common factors that contribute to its development:

  • Perfectionism: The tendency to set extremely high standards and the belief that anything less than perfection is a failure can fuel the syndrome. Individuals who are more perfectionistic often see success as a product of their excessive effort rather than their own abilities.
  • Fear of failure: The intense fear of failing can lead individuals to question their worth and to avoid situations where their competence may be tested. This fear can be particularly paralyzing, as it prevents taking risks or seeking new growth opportunities.
  • Family dynamics: In some cases, childhood family expectations can contribute to the development of the syndrome. For example, the pressure to meet high expectations or comparisons with siblings.
  • New professional challenges: Facing new roles or responsibilities can trigger the syndrome in people who previously felt secure in their positions.
  • Social comparisons: The tendency to compare oneself with others can incite feelings of inadequacy. Additionally, seeing others’ achievements, often idealized, can make individuals question their own success and worth.

How to combat impostor syndrome

Combating impostor syndrome requires a multifaceted approach that involves self-reflection, behavior modification, and, in some cases, professional support.

In this case, HR managers play a crucial role in the well-being and professional development of employees. Implementing strategies focused on combating impostor syndrome can promote a more productive work environment.

Below are some strategies that can help us combat this syndrome:

Foster a supportive culture

Creating a work environment where employees feel safe to express their doubts without fear of judgment is essential. Promoting communication can help demystify impostor syndrome and encourage employees to share and overcome their experiences.

Implement mentoring programs

Mentoring programs can be particularly beneficial for employees struggling with impostor syndrome. Having a mentor who offers guidance, support, and constructive feedback can help employees recognize their achievements and strengthen their confidence in their professional abilities.

Promote work-life balance

Work-life balance is essential for employee well-being. HR directors should encourage employees to take adequate breaks, use their vacation days, and establish healthy boundaries between work and personal life. This can also help prevent burnout and reduce feelings of inadequacy.

Provide regular feedback

Positive and constructive feedback is crucial for helping employees internalize their successes. It is important to balance acknowledgment of achievements with suggestions for improvement in a way that fosters growth without feeding destructive self-criticism.

It is also important to note that to give feedback to our employees, it is necessary to first install a performance management tool that allows us to obtain objective data on the productive times of your teams, thus seeing the time invested in each task.

Recognition of efforts and achievements should be a regular practice, not just at performance evaluation moments.

For HR directors, addressing impostor syndrome is not just about improving work productivity but also about fostering an inclusive work environment.

By creating a culture of openness and support, implementing mentoring programs, offering regular feedback to employees, and training and promoting a healthy balance between work and personal life, it is possible to help employees overcome their doubts and value their competencies and achievements.

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