Imposter Syndrome in HR

Imposter Syndrome is becoming an increasingly recognised concept, and to be frank: it’s an HR issue. Employers need to ensure that their workforce are empowered, motivated and well-adjusted in their work lives if they are to be of tangible benefit to the company and its mission and goals. Combatting imposter syndrome amongst employees is just one part of achieving this, but it too is something that those working in HR can suffer from as they put the wellbeing and career needs of others ahead of themselves (after all, HR are the ‘people people’!). 

Thankfully, as imposter syndrome becomes better known and acknowledged, there are methods HR departments can use to help defeat it amongst staff; and themselves.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is the anxious belief that the individual is undeserving of the success, role, situation or progression they find themselves in. It is deep-rooted self-doubt that convinces the person affected that their achievements have been obtained as a result of luck rather than qualification and hard work – no matter how much the latter may be the case. 

There are many different types of imposter syndrome and it can be experienced by anyone. It is not limited to those already living with mental illness. 

Why is Imposter Syndrome an issue for HR departments?

Imposter syndrome is an issue for HR departments as it loosens company culture, can create an unhealthy working environment and can isolate employees from one another. As those living with imposter syndrome are likely to be afraid of failure, they may also be less likely to raise new ideas, innovate or try things differently, which can stifle business growth and development.

Anyone working in HR will already know how easy it is to lose track of their own wellbeing at work as they focus on that of others, but imposter syndrome in particular can make it difficult for them to effectively manage the empowerment and wellbeing of others; and can get in the way of difficult employment conversations and decisions.

What can HR do to tackle Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome may be suffered by individuals, but it can be tackled through company culture as a whole. 

  • Foster a culture of diversity and inclusion. Every employee must feel valued and that they belong in their role. ‘Othering’ or differentiating employees from one another unnecessary can leave them feeling singled out and undeserving. Studies of BAME employees indicate that being physically visibly different from their colleagues and from a different background can be a risk factor for developing imposter syndrome, based on both underrepresentation and disrespect;
  • Communicate clearly on expectations. Every employee in an organisation should be able to tell anyone else exactly what it is they do, why they do it, and how it works – and perhaps most importantly of all, tell them in layman’s terms. This helps validate their position and solidify their objectives;
  • Celebrate successes. All too often a hard project will be completed and once the work is done, the effort forgotten. Celebrating successes and attributing credit correctly can help reward staff for their hard work whilst raising their profile amongst others;
  • Don’t panic pay. Needing to hire someone quickly to fill a critical role is often achieved in business by simply stumping up a big pay packet – but this can fast burden the individual with hefty expectations and high pressure. Whilst everyone deserves to be paid fairly, and in like-for-like roles equally, this can be done at the appropriate industry rate and not overcompensating for a rapid hire or golden handshake;
  • Educate. Many people still don’t know what imposter syndrome is, even if they’re suffering from it, and so discussing it with staff can help lead to healthier thought patterns and working habits;
  • Strive to continuously improve. If the whole workforce is working to always get better, there cannot be a staff member left behind on the journey. Working collaboratively with one another and each playing a part validates an individual’s contribution and helps boost their self-esteem.

Finally, of course, HR professionals must be encouraged to include themselves in all of these measures! As frequently as they encourage others to take a break, maintain a healthy work-life balance and celebrate a job well done, they must do so too. It is far too easy to get caught up in the issues of others and not focus on yourself. 

A culture of clarity is really key to tackling imposter syndrome, and this should start at the top down through every level of the organisation. Doing away with the outdated ‘never let them see you sweat’ adage in favour of admitting hard work and bad days and convoluted processes is imperative and ensures that no one is attempting to live up to unrealistic and untrue expectations. Every industry has its own nuances in this respect. It’s important to remember that work isn’t a social media feed – and there is much more admiration to be received in working hard for something than not working at all!