Why Do I Feel Like a Fake Imposter at Work?

5 Strategies for Employers to Combat Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace

Part 5 of a 6-Part Series Discussion of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is being publicly recognized as a real-life counter-productive experience, and employers are taking on responsibility within the workplace. It makes you feel like an imposter at work.


Why Do I Feel Like a Fake Imposter at Work?It can be argued that a majority of employees at some time or another have felt inadequate in their capabilities. It can also be stated with certainty that they have experienced a sense of insecurity wavering their confidence. Yet, that is not the same as struggling with imposter syndrome (IS). The former experiences are fleeting moments with no notable damage, whereas imposter syndrome is persistent with a realized detrimental outcome. The greater argument being formed surrounding this topic is the impact that imposter syndrome has on employees and consideration of employers’ responsibilities to help counter their experience within the workplace.

Coined by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the early 1970s, imposter syndrome has been widely defined and accepted as, An internal experience of intellectual phoniness that appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women.” Despite recognizable achievements, the wrongly self-imposed belief remains that they are not bright and live in constant fear of being discovered as a fraud. However, modern discussions have included all genders as having experienced this phenomenon. Regrettably, these feelings come at the cost of anxiety, depression, self-sabotage, stress, and other recognized mental health diagnoses.

Recent conversations are about the beneficial role employers will have in mitigating these problems. It has been perceived by first-line management that the unfavorable impact within the workplace due to imposter syndrome can cause employees to underperform despite their talent, skill, experience, and prior favorable recognized past performance. Imposter syndrome has become a trap with an outcome to negatively impact a company’s bottom line.

The success and sustainability of any company are dependent on their foremost stakeholders, their employees. Imposter syndrome has the potential to become a barrier to workplace productivity. To counteract this possible outcome, employers would fare well to consider strategies that will create a culture and space to minimize impact.

Strategies for Employers

  1. Gain an understanding of imposter syndrome. While not given a medical diagnosis, the likeliness is akin to anxiety, depression, and stress. Bringing in a trained IS facilitator to cover how this condition impacts, employers will afford company managers the benefit to gain empathy. It is reasonable in that since it is unlikely a stamp will be on the forehead of any with these experiences, management’s new knowledge will prove beneficial for all employees. A core strategy is to partner with professionals with a focus on helping leadership understand this phenomenon while providing custom-tailored programs for easy implementation.
  2. Implement a DEI imposter syndrome program. Corporations must be commended on their active efforts in creating programs for their employees to feel a sense of belonging. Some organizations have significant diversity programs. Not only is this a responsible outlook, but it sends a clear message to their employees that they are valued and that they matter. Corporations can have their human resources department collaborate with IS facilitators to coordinate a monthly “lunch and learn” allowing space for open discussion and real-time employee feedback. This information is beneficial for management to ensure company goals are met based on the capabilities of human capital.
  3. Arrange a mentor partnering program. This is perhaps the most beneficial tactic towards counteracting imposter syndrome. The core symptom of IS is the persistent thought of being found as a fraud despite recognized professional achievements. Building a relationship with a mentor could help thwart IS symptoms. A mentor is able to provide a perspective that the employee is unable to view on their own.  The pressure to produce high-quality work can lead to performance anxiety. Working with a mentor will bring about a more realistic outlook for the employee experiencing imposter syndrome to increase self-esteem and productivity.
  4. Offer an incentive to join the company IS program. Employees suffering from imposter syndrome do so in secret which is why the condition is hard to detect and defeat. Employers who create an incentive for all employees to join the program are removing barriers of embarrassment and the fear of being found out. The incentive should apply to management as well. With mentors and employees belonging to the same ‘in-group’, it creates a sense of belonging and vaccinates teams against negative self-perceptions. Team-building exercises for this type of program have proven to increase productivity. They serve as motivators and strength builders, thus a strong contender as a viable company option for company morale.
  5. Promote racial equity. Along with acknowledging the need for corporate diversity and inclusion programs, employers would want to discern the need to consider dismantling implicit bias and any inherited structural bias. These two topics provide an opportunity for open germane conversations within organizations to bring about awareness of imposter syndrome’s negative influence on communities of color. Including this aspect as a primary strategy to incorporate as corporations give notice to significant barriers for business and employee growth as a sustainable and profitable company is vital.

Overall, imposter syndrome is a result of an employee not feeling supported and possibly disconnected within an organization. Organizations willing to take on a corporate responsibility will work to establish a safe environment allowing employees to focus on productivity as the result of feeling and being supported.

If you are here for the first time, here are earlier discussions, Are You A Fraud, Mental Health And Imposter Syndrome, Imposter Syndrome and The Role of Bias, and What Is Corporate Responsibility Towards Imposter Syndrome In The Workplace.

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