3 Signs Imposter Syndrome Is Affecting Your Entire Staff

Work should be the place where you soar.

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Are you or your staff dealing with imposter syndrome at work?

A 2020 KPMG LLP study found that 75 percent of US female executives suffer from the stress of overcoming imposter syndrome at one time or another.

While originally thought to occur predominantly in women, research by Badaway, Gazdag, and Brouer finds that it affects men too, and, to some extent, with more severe symptoms.

Before overcoming imposter syndrome, we have to define it

Described as a set of beliefs and behaviors associated with individuals who doubt their abilities, attribute their success to luck, and feel like frauds or phonies, it disproportionately affects those who are high-achievers such as Ph.D. holders, executives, managers, etc.


If this perfectly describes members of your workforce, it's most likely holding them back from their fullest potential as well as wearing them down.

RELATED: Do You Have Imposter Syndrome? 5 Triggers That Can Crush Your Confidence

Why is overcoming imposter syndrome at work so important for your staff?

Imposter syndrome can undermine the performance and well-being of even the smartest, highly skilled, and top-performing staff.


These staff members are high achieving, effective, and productive. But, are they doing well? They are masters of disguise and work hard to conceal beliefs and feelings about themselves.

Thus, the signs may be subtle, masked, and rationalized.

Here are 3 signs of imposter syndrome in the workplace that you need to pay attention to.

1. They're obsessed with perfection.

Staff with imposter syndrome are likely to take perfectionism to extremes and impose high standards for themselves.

Perfectionists can always find ways to improve or tweak output, whether it's their own or that of their direct reports.

They speak of the need for enhancements rather than faults in order to mask their own incompetency should that imagined inevitable error be uncovered.


Typically, they aren't intentionally deceptive, but rather, acting from an unrelenting fear that stems from a deep lack of confidence and self-worth.

Procrastination falls under perfectionism because it often results from overthinking and compulsive tweaking. As a consequence, planning bogs down and tasks or project start dates are regularly postponed.

Similarly, compulsive scrutiny on quality control and thoroughness delays task or project completion.

Since people with imposter syndrome are anxious about performance, they put in a tremendous amount of time and effort. They tend to be workaholics, regularly stay late, work on weekends, and cram before deadlines.


When the work is complete, they often deflect praise and recognition. They may find fault, remark on areas for improvement, or claim they were just lucky. In more extreme cases, they may even resort to sabotaging their work.

RELATED: 7 Lies Imposter Syndrome Makes You Believe & How To Deal With Them

2. They isolate themselves and fail to delegate.

Imposter syndrome typically leads to isolation, micro-management, and failure to delegate.

Managers with imposter syndrome fail to delegate out of quality concerns and in doing so, they overload themselves with an unnecessary work burden.

They're not apt to ask for help either because the request would just validate their self-doubt and lack of confidence.


Some fear that their direct reports will reveal their weakness and upstage them. Hence, they prefer to work alone and do the work themselves.

3. They hesitate toward professional advancement.

Professional advancement necessarily involves unknowns and vulnerability.

This can produce a tremendous amount of stress and/or anxiety in an individual who lacks confidence, harbors significant self-doubt and self-judgment, and feels unworthy of recognition.

And, remember, their performance standards are exceptionally high.

As a result, staff with imposter syndrome will often avoid and procrastinate in providing a response to a supervisor's proposals for advancement. They may habitually put off recommended or required training.


If they do accept a promotion or new, more challenging responsibilities, their obsessive drive will yield payoffs. But, eventually, fissures will infiltrate their performance, health, or well-being.

Remediation and assistance need to come long before that happens.

How does feeling like an imposter affect staff well-being?

These days, most workplaces are stressful. Expectations and competition can be intense. Add to that the internally generated stress of a person with imposter syndrome.

Someone who is dealing with imposter syndrome at work doesn't allocate much time to self-care, exercise, physical movement, preparation of nutritious meals, or connection with family and friends.


And these are all important choices to decompress from work and stress.

Instead, they're inclined to suffer from anxiety and burnout at some point. Typically, those with imposter syndrome self-destruct from the inside out.

What can you do to empower your staff and help them learn how to overcome imposter syndrome?

First things first, assess if you have anyone dealing with imposter syndrome in your workforce. Check for signs and symptoms among the staff. Listen to the impressions from their staff and supervisors.

In addition, you can administer a survey to identify if there's an issue. Through the survey process, you can help those who suffer from imposter syndrome identify themselves.


As part of staff care services, offer more in-depth information and help them learn how to deal with imposter syndrome through coaching and mentoring sessions, workshops, and other resources.

Make sure to avoid stigmatization. Remember that these are high-achievers who significantly contribute to their employer's mission and bottom line.

An investment in their well-being will deter burnout and attrition and reap benefits for any employer.


Pitfalls of dealing with imposter syndrome at work

Some experts suggest that supervisors offer more praise. However, this could backfire and exacerbate the problem.

Recognition can intensify shame and the fear of being outed. Instead, encourage staff to work on the underlying beliefs and emotions first.

Inner work precedes practical tips and tricks to combat undesirable behaviors.

Instead of focusing predominantly on output and performance, staff with imposter syndrome should be encouraged to monitor changes in their well-being.

For example, are they more inclined to take breaks, unplug in the evenings, and engage in self-care? Even being able to delegate more is a form of self-care.


A lot can be said about the typical modern work environment. Most workplaces could and should humanize much further.

This means lightening up on the competition and staff comparisons, encouragement of breaks and exercise, clear delineation of responsibilities and work processes, and the creation of better modes of two-way communication.

Of course, there will always be those who take the world on their own shoulders and take less credit than they deserve. But it's up to a good manager to find out if they need real help underneath. 

RELATED: The 5 'Faces' Of Imposter Syndrome & Mantras To Take Off The Mask

Patricia Bonnard, Ph.D., ACC is a certified International Coaching Federation (ICF) leadership coach and a certified Martha Beck life coach. For more information, contact her or visit her website.