What is impostor syndrome at work?

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people feel like they are not good enough or qualified to do their job, despite having evidence to the contrary. It is estimated that 70% of people have experienced impostor syndrome at some point in their lives, and it is especially common among high-achieving women. The good news is that there are ways to overcome impostor syndrome and build confidence.

What is impostor syndrome at work?

On average, people with better skills and abilities tend to suffer from impostor syndrome. In other words, they see themselves as fraudsters and fear that at some point it will become clear that they are not as exceptional as they seem.

Workplace impostor syndrome is a common phenomenon.

Having the perception that one does not deserve the position one occupies or that one’s merits are not remarkable enough to receive certain recognitions is a recurring psychological reality. The consequence of harboring this belief is at the root of many stressful situations and anxiety disorders.

Now, why does an able-bodied person consider themselves a fraud? This psychological phenomenon has decades of research behind it. We know, for example, that it tends to appear more frequently in women than in men. In addition, factors such as perfectionism or low self-esteem are usually the cause of this.

So, despite the fact that this reality does not appear in any diagnostic manual and is not considered a clinical entity in itself, it is a common phenomenon. Moreover, since clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes decried it in 1978, experts have not failed to point out that at least 7 out of 10 people suffer from it at some point.

Characteristics of impostor syndrome at work

It can attract the attention of many people. To think that there are people who have succeeded professionally and who, however, perceive themselves as imposters and do not deserve these positions or recognitions, can, to say the least, be difficult for us to understand. Even so, studies such as the one published in the Journal of Behavioral Science indicate that about 30% of successful people suffer from it.

Given the degree of affectation and social impact, it is undoubtedly necessary to make this reality much more visible. To begin with, the impostor syndrome at work can be defined as the emotional discomfort linked to the belief of not deserving this position or this professional recognition. It is something that artists, writers, scientists, engineers or anyone with skills in a certain field can experience.

Thus, this devaluing perception of oneself can have very harmful consequences. For example, we may see a highly skilled person land a job and find that they assume success was “lucky.” This constant feeling of being an impostor makes him accept lower salaries than the opinion that he does not deserve to be promoted. Let’s get more information.

How does impostor syndrome manifest itself at work?

The main characteristic of people with impostor syndrome at work is the obvious difficulty in internalizing their own achievements. If I receive a prize in a photography contest, I can imagine that only two or three people answered that call. So this award for my work doesn’t mean much.

Another aspect that defines this personality is doubt. They doubt themselves, their validity, their effectiveness, their skills and abilities…
They attribute success to external factors.
Expectations are so high that it is impossible to meet them.
They constantly sabotage themselves (they have a very critical, negative and fatalistic internal dialogue).
They experience deep emotions of shame, insecurity, restlessness, anxiety…

The reasons for this phenomenon

There are, in fact, multiple dynamics that explain the phenomenon of impostor syndrome at work. However, the one who constantly supports him has low self-esteem. Frequently, the low appreciation and valuation of oneself leads to the perception that one is an impostor.

Let us know more underlying causes though:

They are very perfectionist people. Their expectations are so high that even if they reach 99.9% of them, they will still see failure.

In other cases, what we usually find is the weight of a very demanding education. Growing up in an environment where the only way to receive affection was to show your worth can give people the undying feeling that they aren’t trying hard enough.

On the other hand, studies, like the one published in the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, point to something interesting. Imposter syndrome at work occurs very frequently among social and ethnic minorities. It is enough to belong to another culture, nationality or same gender to have stereotypical and negative beliefs about one’s own competence.

This is often the case for women working in science or research. In those environments where the number of men is more important. This leads them at some point to doubt themselves or work harder to prove themselves.

Strategies to reduce the effect of impostor syndrome

We already know that impostor syndrome at work appears with high frequency. However, one fact we need to consider is that continually maintaining this perception comes at a cost. It is common for many of these people to not progress in their work and also develop a mood disorder.

What strategies exist to reduce or manage this type of situation? These would be some keys:

These people need to stop comparing themselves to others, to start appreciating and acknowledging their own accomplishments.

Likewise, they must identify and deactivate irrational fears. They cannot validate the fear that others will discover that they are not really as valid or competent as they seem.

Something like that makes no sense or use, let alone truthfulness. Rationalizing and detecting false thinking errors is the first step.

It is advisable to share with other people what is happening to them. It is always good to voice these fears out loud so that others can help us realize how unvalid they are.

In addition, we must remember the successes achieved and the recognitions won. Something like this allows the person with this syndrome to realize that they are not as fallible as they think.

Another good strategy to defuse impostor syndrome at work is to help or train other people.

Sharing knowledge, skills and teaching is a great way to discover all that one can bring to the world. With this, self-esteem is much more enhanced.

In conclusion

While it is true that it is not a clinical category or a psychological disorder, it is a phenomenon that greatly limits personal growth and development. Do not hesitate to ask for help if we need it.

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Vogue Health Team


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