Imposter Syndrome and workplace wellbeing

Published by Richenda Sabine on

What is imposter syndrome?

Table of contents

Are you a fraud?

According to a 2020 review, 85% of UK professionals suffer from Imposter Syndrome (IS) – having been working in their industry for at least three years, they expressed that they felt incompetent at work.

infographic with imposter syndrome statistics

Imposter Syndrome – what is it?

Psychologists first described the syndrome in 1978. Many people experience symptoms for a limited time, such as in the first few weeks of a new job. This can lead to symptoms of distress known as impostor syndrome, which can affect different aspects of a person’s life. Having a sense of self-doubt can help a person assess their achievements and abilities, but too much self-doubt can adversely impact a person’s self-image.

Who suffers from IS: Famous imposters

Did you know that…Albert Einstein was identified as having “imposter syndrome”? He had serious doubts about his significant accomplishments and talents and  was afraid that people would ultimately realise that he was a fraud, and not the extraordinary genius they held him to be.

Celebrities who have struggled with IS include:

  • Tom Hanks
  • David Bowie
  • Serena Williams
  • Maya Angelou
  • Lady Gaga

Who suffers from IS: Types of imposters

Leading imposter syndrome researcher Dr Valerie Young describes five main types of imposters in her 2011 book “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.”

  1. The perfectionist. Perfection isn’t a realistic goal. Instead of acknowledging the hard work put in to completing a task, perfectionists criticise themselves for small mistakes and feel ashamed of their ‘failure’. Unfortunately, fear of failure stops you trying new things.
  2. The natural genius. When you’ve spent your life acquiring new skills with little effort, you feel like a fraud when something doesn’t come easily to you, or you fail to succeed first time.
  3. The soloist. If you can’t achieve success independently or need to ask for help, you see this as being a failure
  4. The expert. You might spend so much time researching and seeking out as much information as possible, so believe you should have all the answers. Of course, when you don’t, you consider yourself a fraud or a failure.
  5. The superhero. Your desire to succeed in every aspect of your life: student, friend, employee, parent…makes you push yourself to the limit. But even this may not be enough to resolve your imposter feelings (“This should be easier”; “why can’t I do more?”)


colleagues at computer looking focused

What can you do?

Here are some strategies to help resolve imposter feelings productively:

  1. Acknowledging your feelings by sharing them with others can help put things into perspective (you’re not alone).
  2. Build connections and create a network of mutual support.
  3. Challenge your doubts – ask yourself whether any facts support these beliefs, then look for evidence to counter them. You can fool your workers some of the time, but not all of the time. If you consistently receive encouragement and recognition, that’s a good sign you’re doing something right.

Avoid comparing yourself to others. Everyone has unique abilities. You are where you are because someone recognised your talents and potential. Remember that no-one can ‘do it all’. Even when someone seems to have everything under control, you may not know the full story. It’s OK to need more time to learn something new, even if someone else appears to grasp that skill immediately

Looking on the bright side

Research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) suggests that, in workplace settings, at least, those harbouring impostor thoughts tend to compensate for their perceived shortcomings by being good team players with strong social skills, and are often recognized as such by their employers.

At BAD, we understand that the best workplaces are where everyone can feel comfortable. Happy employees are motivated to do their best for the business. We build custom training experiences and HR tools to change employee behaviour for the better, and improve workplace culture for all employees. Get in touch with us today to discuss your behavioural change needs. 

Related stories

Changing behaviour

Time to change… 

Why do we behave the way we do? It can be hard to change our less desirable behaviours when they are highly ingrained and have become habits we perform automatically without thinking.

digital user experience conceptual image
Best Practice

The inaccessibility of dark patterns

Even if you haven’t heard the phrase Dark Patterns, the chances are you’ve almost certainly come across them — both online and in the physical world.