How to break the imposter cycle in your organisation

70% of high achievers live in persistent fear of people finding out that they “don’t have a clue” what they’re doing. Despite evidence to the contrary, such as hard-earned degrees or a proven track record, they still attribute their achievements to luck, fate or simply good timing.

If that sounds like some of your employees, they might be suffering from a condition called imposter syndrome. As an HR practitioner, you can substantially eliminate fear of failure in your organisation and open up your employees to real, lasting success. Here are some practical ways to do this.

Encourage friendships at work

High-quality relationships at work help reduce that sense of isolation that imposter syndrome creates. Encouraging your employees to talk about their fears and self-doubt with a trusted friend or family member will help them distinguish between their perception and the reality of their situation.

Cultivate a culture of celebrating wins

Encourage managers to show their appreciation for their team’s achievements. Point out the relative roles that luck, timing, and their team’s own efforts played. It takes regular practice to build up the genuine belief among your employees that their own skills and talent, not just blind luck, drive their results.

Teach employees to acknowledge their ‘imposter’

Provide training and education on how to use solution-focused questions and thought disputation (Martin Seligman’s ABCDE model) to reframe thoughts. The more an employee acknowledges their fears and anxieties, and the better they understand them, the easier these fears will be to deal with.

Show employees how to turn their inner critic into a coach

Ask managers to emphasise to their team that perfection isn’t expected, and that there will be times when employees will be out of their element. Challenge them to rethink what ‘failure’ means. Did they actually fail or did something just not work out the way they expected? If it’s the latter, is that really failure?

Teach self-compassion

People with high levels of self-compassion tend to have lower rates of imposter syndrome. Self-compassion means being sensitive to one’s own suffering and offering non-judgmental understanding of one’s own pain, inadequacies and failures. Self-compassion allows your employees to perceive what they’re going through in the context of shared human imperfection.

Inadequacy and self-doubt are debilitating fears to constantly grapple with and can severely impact your team’s level of satisfaction with their work. Unaddressed, these imposter feelings can become self-fulfilling patterns of thought. I hope you’ll use the tips in this article to help your employees internalise and embrace their achievements.

About the author of this article

Eleanor Shakiba helps savvy professionals how to be resilient at work and cultivate a growth mindset. She is a positive psychology trainer and success coach, based in Sydney. Discover how Eleanor can help you or your team here.