Imposter Phenomenon: How to Identify and Combat it in the Workplace

If you are a team leader, you may have noticed that some of your collaborators have a hard time receiving positive feedback. Being humble is a factor that helps people continue to grow and develop professionally. But when we talk about insecurity, the effect is quite the opposite. This is what happens with the Imposter Phenomenon. 

Today we want to talk to you about this psychological phenomenon that affects the 70% of employees and that it can harm the company’s results if it is not addressed properly. 

What is Imposter Phenomenon? 

The Imposter Phenomenon is an emotional state that was first identified in 1978 by Dr. Pauline Clance in a group of successful women. 

Despite objective evidence of their successful career, these women had continued intrusive thoughts that made them believe that they were not intellectually equal to their position. 

As a result of this feeling of “fraud”, they feared being recognized for their achievements, and could suffer anxiety, panic attacks or depression. 

Although for a long time it has been believed that this phenomenon only affected women in positions of high responsibility, the truth is that the Impostor Syndrome is a psychological state that can affect any employee, regardless of their gender or rank. 

So, people affected by this phenomenon tend to deny that their triumphs are due to their own merits and blame luck for their good performance. In other words, they believe their success is a hoax and are afraid of being found out as imposters. 

Types of Imposter Phenomenon and how to identify them 

According to the study carried out by Pauline Clance, there are 5 types of Imposters. 

These are: 

1. The perfectionist 

These are employees who set themselves goals that are too ambitious, forcing them to work more than necessary. 

Contrary to what one might think, this doesn’t increase performance, but decreases it, because perfectionists focus excessively on details, slowing down the development and continuity of projects. 

Once the goal is reached, instead of feeling proud, they are invaded by a sea of doubts, and they have the constant impression that “they could have done better”. 

In the end, these types of employees end up developing panic attacks, anxiety and Burnout. 

  • How to identify Perfectionists: 
    • They continually push back delivery dates. 
    • They have difficulty leaning on their team members. 
    • Tendency to micromanagement. 
    • They feel constant pressure to meet the needs of the company. 

2. The Expert 

People with this type of Impostor Phenomenon feel that they never know enough, and they fear that not being able to answer all the doubts and questions will expose them as “frauds” in their field. 

In general, these employees believe that they do not have the ability to do the tasks for which they have been hired, and they are in a real panic about letting their managers and colleagues down. 

  • How to identify the Experts: 
    • They always hesitate when making decisions. 
    • They are constantly taking training, even when they don’t need it. 
    • Frictions appear if colleagues try to contribute ideas. 

3. The Lonely Wolf 

These types of employees are excessively individualistic. They have trouble collaborating with their peers and asking for help because they fear others will find out that they are not up to the job. 

Consequently, people with this type of Imposter Phenomenon can destabilize the proper functioning of the team, preventing employees from working as a single unit to achieve common goals. 

  • How to identify Lone Wolves: 
    • They never share their Know-How. 
    • They are afraid of establishing working relationships with the people around them. 
    • They do not communicate transparently with their managers. 

4. The Superhero 

Superhero-type employees are always trying to accomplish more tasks than they can handle. The insecurity they feel due to their “lack of skills” it’s compensated with an overload of work that, in the medium term, harms their physical and mental health. 

Apparently they are optimistic people, always willing to take care of what nobody wants to do, to avoid their “fraud” being discovered. 

  • How to identify Superheroes: 
    • They work outside of business hours. 
    • They are the first to enter and the last to leave the office. 
    • They never talk about hobbies or their personal life, and all their priorities revolve around their professional career.

5. The Genius 

Geniuses are used to everything going right on the firt try. They don’t believe that success is related to the experience gained or the effort invested. Instead, they feel that success depends on their innate abilities. 

For this reason, when they need to face challenges that they do not master, they tend to get stressed and feel invaded by the feeling that they are not valid enough. 

  • How to identify Genies: 
    • They tend to stand out without much effort. 
    • Unforeseen events generate anxiety. 
    • They avoid leaving their comfort zone. 

How to combat the Imposter Phenomenon in the company 

To combat Imposter Phenomenon, it’s important that as a leader you can nurture a psychologically safe work environment. 

For this, it is essential to implement a feedback culture where employees can express themselves freely and without fear of being judged or rejected, which is precisely what favors the appearance of this phenomenon. 

With the help of Employee Engagement software like Team Insights you can: 

  • Send pulse surveys to all employees and assess their mood and motivation in real-time. 
  • Gather real and meaningful feedback from all team members. 
  • Identify the gaps that prevent employees from developing professionally. 
  • Find out what aspects of the company are the most worrying for the employees and draw up action plans that really work. 
  • Create roadmaps to carry out much more effective 1:1 meetings. 

For effective leadership, it is essential to know the people you work with, what their expectations are, and how they feel integrated into the company. Only then you will we be able to take the necessary measures to prevent problems such as the Imposter Phenomenon from affecting your collaborators. 

If people are not comfortable in their work, nor do they feel confident, it’s much more difficult to bring out their full potential. 

Why don’t you start to improve the performance of your team now? You just have to sign-in up, select the type of survey you want to send, and make the right decisions thanks to quality information. It’s free!


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