Understanding and preventing Impostor Syndrome

“What the hell am I doin’ here? I don’t belong here…” It’s doubtful Radiohead front-man Thom Yorke set out to write an Impostor Syndrome anthem when he penned the lyrics to 1992 alt-rock hit Creep, but they succinctly sum up the phenomenon that grips many people at one time or another in their professional lives.

Posted mardi, septembre 13 2022
Understanding and preventing Impostor Syndrome

First coined in the 70s, the term Impostor Syndrome has come to be embraced by mainstream psychology over the decades. It is defined by a deep belief that we are not worthy of our professional position. Cases have been on the rise during the pandemic. Luckily, it is now better understood than ever and can be diagnosed before it takes over your life.

Treat the disease, not the symptoms
According to Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index 2022 report, Covid-19 provoked a wave of dread and anxiety, including Impostor Syndrome. It found that 40% of employees suffered from feelings of unworthiness, a lack of self-confidence and difficulty accepting that they deserve credit for their professional accomplishments. “The unprecedented disruption to our lives brought about by the pandemic led many to rethink how they were living their lives, and this included a reckoning with their experience of work […] companies must be a catalyst for a common objective […] if they want to have workers that feel seen, heard and valued.”

This shift in response, from viewing Imposter Syndrome as a worker-centric problem to a workplace-centric one, is helping to lift the stigma too. According to a 2021 Harvard Business Review article, the term Impostor Syndrome is problematic as “the concept… took a fairly universal feeling of discomfort, second-guessing, and mild anxiety in the workplace and pathologized it, especially for women. The answer to overcoming Imposter Syndrome is not to fix individuals but to create an environment that fosters a number of different leadership styles.”

Young women at most risk
One syndrome can often hide another, and behind Impostor Syndrome, there are usually a range of afflictions that negatively impact a worker’s mental health. The survey found that 66% of French staff suffered from one, or a combination of, chronic fatigue, burnout, reduced self-esteem, social isolation or anxiety.

One syndrome can often hide another, and behind Impostor Syndrome, there are usually a range of afflictions that negatively impact a worker’s mental health

And while a cross-section of employees report feeling Impostor Syndrome, women report it more than men and, above all, it is young people who suffer most from this and other mental health problems, with 63% of Gen-Xers and Millennials impacted.

For one in five staff-members, dedicated mental-health resources and clearly defined objectives for them and their company “contribute to reducing the effects of burnout and impostor syndrome.”

Recognizing the warning signs
The Asana study found that employees in the US experienced burnout an average of 2.3 times in the past year ─ the highest globally ─ and despite nearly half of employees (47%) finding it easier to concentrate at home, 41% feel more isolated when working remotely.   

In order to battle Impostor Syndrome, burnout and other workplace illnesses, the authors of the report recommend implementing the ‘3M’ strategy as a kind of mental-health safety valve, i.e taking macro, meso and micro breaks to disconnect from both professional and personal responsibilities in order to reduce stress and increase physical and mental well-being.

Each staff member needs to determine which kind of mental-health break is needed for a particular situation, based on how they feel at a given moment, and incorporate it into their schedule. The typical macro-break takes place once a month and is a half day or full day in length; the meso pause is weekly and lasts two hours; the micro pause is daily and is only a handful of minutes.