An employee develops impostor syndrome when they feel that they are playing a role for which they are not prepared and that, therefore, their role in the company is a hoax.
It is true that, when we start working in a new role, there is usually a gap between the ideal requirements that must be met to perform well and the actual requirements that we meet. In theory -and in most cases- this gap tends to narrow -even disappear- as we progress and gain experience.
However, when this gap is not closed but remains, the employee’s emotional well-being tends to suffer, especially if they have to pretend there is no such difference between what is expected of them and what they can deliver, and they have to constantly appear confident and stable.
In this case, they begin to develop what in street language, and also in the company language, is called “impostor syndrome”: a whole list of signs and symptoms derived from the effort they have to make to keep afloat the presumed lie that they are the right person for the position they occupy.
What is experienced with impostor syndrome?
Those who suffer from the so-called imposter syndrome are not necessarily people who deliberately want to defraud the company that has placed its trust in them. Instead, they are usually individuals who, for various reasons, feel insecure about their abilities and have the perception that they have been hired unjustifiably: I sold myself too well, I promised what I shouldn’t have, I don’t understand how they trusted me for the job, I lack the necessary aptitudes for this task, I’m no good at all in a job like this, at any moment I’ll be discovered and I’ll look ridiculous, I’m letting my managers down…
All these thoughts, and many more, constantly cross the minds of many people who feel that their position is pure fabrication and that they are involved in a kind of professional lie (partial or total) from which it is difficult to get out of unless one gives up and resigns. As you can see, this situation is extremely stressful and discouraging. Of course, it does not contribute to improving employee productivity either but rather hinders it.
Thus, people who suffer from impostor syndrome may experience any of these five situations (or all of them at once):
1. Identity conflict. I am not who I say I am. I am not who others think I am. I am not the right person for the position that I appeared to be in the job interview or that my managers assumed I was during the selection process.
2. Deteriorated professional self-esteem. They didn’t hire me for what I am worth, they made a mistake or I lied to them. If they had really known my professional profile or knew it now, I would already be out.
3. Anxiety. I am nervous all the time trying to give the image of reliability that I am supposed to give, but I am afraid of being found out, that is to say, that it will become clear that I am not qualified to do this job.
4. Stress. I constantly feel overwhelmed by my tasks and functions, which I don’t think I am prepared for. Months go by and I don’t make any progress in my training and I don’t become more skilled. On the contrary, my task still seems to me to be just as excessive or even more so than at the beginning. It wears me out to have to constantly prove something that I am not.
5. Distortion between my self-image, the image I think I offer to others and the image I think others receive. I am not clear about my true skills, I try to give an image of a competent person, I do not know whether or not my clumsiness or my inability to carry out my functions is noticeable on the outside. I don’t know who notices my imposture and who believes it.
How can we cope with impostor syndrome?
1. Relax. There is no such thing as a perfect employee or one who is always 100 percent confident of their worth. We are all learning every day to be the employee we are supposed to be. We all have our own learning pace and you have yours.
2. You may have got a bit nervous in the job interview and sold a distorted image of what you can do. Maybe you simply did a good job interview and they hired you precisely because of what they saw in you: abilities and potential. Your responsibility is not to blatantly mislead, obviously, but the responsibility for hiring you lies with those who made that decision: they saw something in you that made them hire you, don’t you think?
3. Don’t waste energy like a headless chicken, thinking that you’re going to be found out or that you’re no good for this. If it’s true that you’re no good, don’t worry: sooner or later someone will take responsibility for it and will take over from you (if you don’t resign first) and, you know what? It’s not the end of the world.
And if it is not true that you are no good, but that you are just getting on with your process, take a good look at the areas where you have more potential: ask for help, read, train yourself, consult your colleagues, keep on working on what you do well (to compensate), ask questions, make the most of the performance evaluation interviews. If there is real room for improvement, take advantage of it.
4. If you need a more private and neutral space to examine what has led you to this supposed impostor syndrome, what moves you, or how to get out of it, you always have the trump card of going to a professional psychologist. With this person, comfortably and confidentially, you can assess the situation and begin to redirect it. If you do not know how to start this process, read on.