Have you ever felt like an impostor at work?

Sunday February 2016

What is the Imposter Phenomenon?

The imposter phenomenon is characterised by:

1) A belief that one is a fraud who is not as competent as they appear

2) Fear that one will eventually fail and be discovered as a fraud[1,2]

3) Difficultly taking credit for accomplishments or attribute success to oneself, as success is considered to be due to external factors (e.g., luck) and undeserved[2,3,4]

Have you ever felt like an imposter? It is very common to feel like an imposter with 70% of people feeling this way at some point. Many people who hold impostor beliefs- do so, despite being very successful! However this has many negative outcomes for mental health such as increased depressed mood, lower self-esteem and higher social anxiety[5,6]. It can also impact workplace performance, as employees who feel like imposters tend to engage in negative workplace behaviours, be reluctant to accept promotions and can resign prematurely.    

What it is like to feel like an impostor at work?

We have found that feeling like an impostor at work leads one to negatively compare themselves with their colleagues - where people feel inferior, less competent, less confident, less talented, and less intelligent than their colleagues. This negative social comparison with others also has negative consequences, with a major ramification being burnout.

How can managers help their employees who experience imposter beliefs?

Managers can intervene by normalising the sense of struggle, the experience of setbacks and failure that are common in working life. When managers provide failure normalising information, such as “It’s OK to mess up” and “Everyone doubts their ability sometimes”, it reduces the impact of feeling like an impostor on negative social comparison. It is important to keep in mind that it does not eliminate the consequences of imposter syndrome but it does decrease negative social comparisons. It is best that managers, rather than friends or family, provide such information because they are perceived to be a legitimate authority figure on performance and what struggles are normal in the professional context.    





[1] Leary, M.R., Patton, K.M., Orlando, A.E., & Funk, W.W. (2000). The impostor phenomenon: Self-perceptions, reflected appraisals, and interpersonal strategies. Journal of Personality, 68, 725-756. doi: 10.1111/1467-6494.00114.

[2] Clance, P.R. (1985). The Impostor Phenomenon: When success makes you feel like a fake. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers.

[3] Clance, P.R., & Imes, S.A. (1978). TheImpostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Interventions. Psychotherapy: Theory Research and Practice, 15, 241‑247. doi: org/10.1037/h0086006.

[4] Harvey, J.C. & Katz, C. (1985). If I'm so successful, why do I feel like a fake? The Impostor Phenomenon. New York: St. Martin's Press.

[5] Chrisman, S. M., Pieper, W. A., Clance, P. R., Holland, C. L., & Glickauf-Hughes, C. (1995). Validation of the Clance impostor phenomenon scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 65, 456-467. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa6503_6

[6] McGregor, L. N., Gee, D. E., & Posey, K. E. (2008). I feel like a fraud and it depresses me: The relation between the impostor phenomenon and depression. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 36, 43-48. doi: org/10.2224/sbp.2008.36.1.43.

Buunk, A. P., Peíró, J. M., Rodríguez, I., & Bravo, M. J. (2007). A loss of status and a sense of defeat: An evolutionary perspective on professional burnout. European Journal of Personality, 21, 471-485. doi: 10.1002/per.627.