Unmasking impostor syndrome: 15 ways to overcome it at work

Porträtt av medarbetare Julia MartinsJulia Martins
31 maj 2024
13 min. läsning
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No one wants to feel like an imposter at work. But the truth is, imposter syndrome is a real thing that can negatively impact mental health and well being. If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong or don’t deserve your job, know that you’re not alone. 

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a sense of self-doubt related to work accomplishments. You might have feelings of phoniness and think you don’t deserve your job. Oftentimes, those with imposter syndrome feel like they’re tricking their coworkers into thinking they’re good at their job. 

Also known as the imposter phenomenon, imposter syndrome was first identified by American psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in the 1970s when studying high-achieving women.

Other symptoms include:

  • Lack of self confidence at work

  • Sensitivity of small mistakes

  • Fear of success or failure

  • Burnout from working too hard

If any of these feelings ring true, you’re not alone. In fact, according to our research, nearly two-thirds (62%) of knowledge workers worldwide experience imposter syndrome, indicating a high prevalence of the phenomenon. All types of people experience imposter syndrome—and not just new hires, either. High achievers in more senior positions are actually more likely than average to experience imposter syndrome.

Anatomy of Work Special Report: The unexplored link between impostor syndrome and burnout

Burnout and impostor syndrome have historically been studied as two separate phenomena. In this report, we connect the dots to help leaders slow burnout and increase employee retention.

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Characteristics of imposter syndrome

Everyone experiences imposter syndrome slightly differently, but common characteristics include:

  • Feelings of self-doubt in your skills and competence

  • Crediting external factors—like luck—for your success

  • Decreased self-confidence

  • Isolating from team members

  • Perfectionism

  • Experiencing overwork and burnout

  • Setting impossibly high standards for yourself

  • Low self-esteem

  • Intense fear of failure

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5 types of imposter syndrome

Dr. Valerie Young, Ed.D., an internationally known expert on the subject and author of “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It” identifies five types of imposters in her research:

[inline illustration] The five imposter archetypes (infographic)

1. The perfectionist

A perfectionist is a person whose primary focus is on “how” something is done instead of the overall outcome. Despite receiving praise, you believe you could have done better.

2. The expert

When someone is more concerned about “what” and “how much” they know or can do, they may suffer from an expert mindset. In a scenario where you have a minor lack of knowledge, this extreme expectation of yourself can bring feelings of failure and shame.    

3. The natural genius

This type of person measures their competence by speed and ease. When you feel like this, you equate not understanding a subject or performing a skill successfully on the first try with failure.

4. The soloist

Focusing more on “who” carries out the task, this type of imposter believes they have to be the one to do everything on their own. If you fall into this archetype, you may believe that asking for help or needing assistance is a sign of weakness. 

5. The superhuman

This describes someone who measures their success by “how many” roles they can both juggle and master. With this mindset, you may feel guilty and ashamed when falling short in any role, even while excelling in others.

Imposter syndrome in the workplace

Imposter syndrome in the workplace can manifest in various ways, causing team members to doubt their skills, competence, and achievements. This persistent self-doubt can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and burnout, ultimately hindering career growth and job satisfaction.

A recent study titled "Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: A Systematic Review" investigated the pervasiveness of the imposter phenomenon among various populations, with a focus on ethnic minority college students and medical students. The findings suggest that imposter syndrome is a widespread phenomenon that extends beyond the academic setting and into the workplace, affecting individuals at all levels, from entry-level employees to CEOs.

While imposter syndrome is not recognized as a distinct disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), its impact on mental well-being and professional performance is significant.

Anatomy of Work Special Report: The unexplored link between impostor syndrome and burnout

Burnout and impostor syndrome have historically been studied as two separate phenomena. In this report, we connect the dots to help leaders slow burnout and increase employee retention.

Anatomy of Work Special Report: The unexplored link between imposter syndrome and burnout page banner image

Regardless of your situation or your exact feelings, you aren’t alone. If you’re a fan of statistics, remember that 62% of global employees experience imposter syndrome. But if you’re not, it’s often more helpful to hear from others who have experienced the same. We asked Asanas to share their experiences with imposter syndrome. Here’s what they had to say:

  • “Imposter syndrome is much more common than most people realize—and it happens at all levels. If anything, it gets worse as you become more senior and take on more responsibility. That's why building strategies for overcoming imposter syndrome are so important.” – Andrew

  • “I know that there is a voice telling you otherwise, but hear me out—where you’re going is more important than where you came from.” –Rishika

Read: How to use performance improvement plan templates (PIPs)
  • “Everyone you esteem in your area of expertise once knew absolutely nothing about the subject. You’d be surprised to learn that people are generally more compassionate and open to helping you and answering questions than you might expect.” –John

  • “Imposter syndrome feels stronger when you aren't able to reach over and tap a co-worker on the shoulder for some immediate collaboration, but remember: you work in the position you do because the team believes in you.” –Asana team member

  • “Your unique set of personal and professional experiences are what makes your perspective different and valuable! When you share this perspective—even if you’re nervous—it helps us all get to a better answer together.” –Erica

  • “Give yourself permission to have a growth mindset. Try using ‘I don't know—yet.’ This way, you’re constantly reminding yourself that just because you don't know something doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. You still have a chance to go figure it out.” –Leah

  • “Try not to compare yourself to others. Everyone has a different journey and you might not be seeing the start of theirs. Instead of feeling inadequate, try learning from people who are more experienced than you.” –Robert

  • “Career growth is difficult and scary—sometimes, the act of stretching yourself and taking on new challenges brings on a whirlwind of self-doubt. You are not alone! Talk to a trusted peer or manager to see if they can help give you the support, guidance, or validation you need to gain some confidence. Remind yourself that sometimes you are your harshest critic.” –Asana team member

  • “It took me many years to realize that every person feels insecurity and self-doubt, even the most senior and experienced leaders. It's okay to feel like you don't know what you're doing—most of us feel the same way! Be open and honest with your manager about your feelings so they can help put you in situations where you can prove to yourself that you do belong here!” –Jessica

  • “I heard a great quote recently that really resonated with me: ‘We compare our innermost criticized version of ourselves with everyone else's outwardly portrayed version of themselves.’” –Dave

  • “It’s ok if you don’t know who your ‘best’ or ‘true’ self is. Life is about discovery. It’s so important to give yourself grace so you can learn and adapt, instead of feeling like a copycat.” –Rose

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10 proven strategies to overcome imposter syndrome 

If you’re personally struggling with imposter syndrome, there are a lot of actions you can take to reduce those feelings. The most important thing to do is remember you’re not alone—and these feelings aren’t abnormal. When you want to succeed, it’s common to feel like you aren’t doing a good enough job. Over time, those feelings can turn into imposter syndrome. 

But with time and hard work, you can overcome imposter syndrome. Here’s how:

[inline illustration] 9 ways to kick imposter syndrome to the curb (infographic)

1. Focus on facts, not feelings

Imposter syndrome makes you feel like you aren’t good at your job. But oftentimes, these feelings of self doubt and fraudulence are based on fear—not reality. The best way to fight imposter syndrome is to separate your feelings from the facts and practice self compassion. 

The Conscious Leadership Group calls this “facts vs. stories.” Facts are observable truths—things a video camera picks up on. Stories are how you interpret those facts. 

You can’t keep your brain from creating stories, but you can center yourself around the facts. The next time you’re in a situation that makes you feel like an imposter, refer back to the facts vs. stories of the situation. For example, if you felt bad after speaking up in a team meeting, focus on what your team members actually said.

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Asana team member

2. Acknowledge your feelings of self doubt, then let go

Just because your interpretations of an event are stories (rather than fact) doesn’t mean your feelings are any less valid. Overcoming imposter syndrome isn’t about ignoring your emotions. Rather, the best way to fight this feeling is to acknowledge that you’re feeling poorly, validate that it’s okay, and then let those feelings go if they aren’t based in reality.

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3. Talk to someone you trust

Imposter syndrome is a very isolating feeling. But, as we shared above, these feelings are really common in the workplace. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of knowledge workers worldwide experience imposter syndrome. So the next time you’re feeling this way, try to share those feelings with someone else. 

There are two advantages to sharing how you’re feeling:

  • Instead of internalizing the emotions, recognize them and move on. When you keep your feelings about imposter syndrome a secret, they grow bigger and harder to deal with. Sharing these feelings with someone else is a great way to recognize them on the path towards overcoming imposter syndrome.

  • You might find someone who has also experienced imposter syndrome. Unfortunately, imposter syndrome is a common workplace phenomenon. You might find that the person you confide in has also experienced imposter syndrome in the past. This helps you feel like you aren’t so alone in the way you’re feeling.

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4. Look for evidence

If acknowledging or sharing your feelings of self doubt isn’t helping, try fighting your feelings with the evidence. Oftentimes, imposter syndrome isn’t based on facts, so focus on the facts to fight these feelings. 

If you often feel like you aren’t getting your work done on time, try these steps:

  • Go back over your most recent projects. 

  • Review the work you’ve done to see if these feelings are based on fact. 

  • If they are, you’ve identified something concrete you can work on and improve upon. 

  • If they aren’t, use these facts every time that voice in your brain pipes up to tell you you aren’t good enough. 

If you don’t have an easy way to review your work, try using a work management tool, like Asana. These tools help you organize your work, look back on past projects, and get set up for success on any future initiatives.

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Asana team member

5. Reframe your thoughts

There is power in our thoughts. The way we approach the world has the power to shape our reality—in both positive and negative ways. 

If you often suffer from negative thoughts, start monitoring your mental voice and modifying it where possible. Sharing your feelings with a trusted friend, family member, or loved one can also help you gain perspective. This technique won’t have immediate results, but over time, it will help you approach situations in a more positive light. 

For example, the next time you make a mistake, try thinking, “That wasn’t my best work, but I’ll do better next time” instead of, “That was awful.” By reframing your mental language, you’re rewiring your brain to be more supportive.

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6. Look for a mentor

To fight imposter syndrome, try actively improving your hard skills and soft skills. That way, whenever that little voice in your head whispers that you’re not good enough at something, you can whisper back that you’re in the process of getting better. 

A great way to do that is to find a mentor. Look for someone in your company or your field who can give you practical advice and support. This might be a senior leader or a leader at another company that you look up to.

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Read: The difference between hard skills and soft skills: Examples from 14 Asana team members

7. Learn from your team members

A common symptom of imposter syndrome is comparing yourself to your peers and thinking you’re worse at your job than they are. And while comparing yourself is tempting, there’s a lot you can do to reframe these feelings. 

The next time you feel tempted to compare yourself to your peers, try to take a step back and instead see what you can learn from them. The fact of the matter is that you will have team members who have strengths in certain areas you don’t, and vice versa. That doesn’t make you less worthy—it rather creates an opportunity for your team to learn from one another to grow and succeed in your roles.

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8. Anticipate imposter syndrome to reduce its effects

Over time, you might notice that you always experience imposter syndrome when a specific thing happens. If that’s the case, prepare in advance of that situation so you can combat the effects. 

For example, let’s say you typically get nervous while filling out your self review during your team’s performance cycle. If that level of reflection makes you uncomfortable, try keeping a list of things you accomplish over the course of the quarter or year in your collaboration software. That way, when the performance review cycle rolls around, you already have your self review written, without even worrying about it.

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9. Celebrate your accomplishments

Sometimes, the best way to fight imposter syndrome is to face it head on. The next time you feel like you did something well, celebrate it! If you’re comfortable, share your accomplishments with your team. 

You aren’t limited to doing this when you do a good job, either. Try creating a list of the qualities and skills you possess. These can be specific to your role—like being a great salesperson—or more general to who you are, like always being there for your team members.

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10. Seek professional help if needed

If the imposter phenomenon is severely impacting your mental well-being and your ability to function effectively in your personal and professional life, it may be time to seek professional help. Therapeutic interventions, such as psychotherapy, can be incredibly beneficial in addressing the underlying issues that contribute to imposter syndrome. A qualified mental health professional can help you identify and challenge the negative thought patterns and beliefs that fuel your self-doubt, while also working with you to develop strategies to enhance your self-worth and self-efficacy.

In therapy, you may also explore how certain personality traits, such as neuroticism or perfectionism, may be contributing to your imposter syndrome. By gaining a better understanding of these factors and learning to manage them effectively, you can begin to develop a more accurate and positive perception of your own abilities and achievements. Remember, seeking professional help is a sign of strength and self-awareness, not weakness. With the right support and guidance, you can overcome imposter syndrome and unlock your full potential in both your personal and professional lives.

How managers can help employees overcome imposter syndrome

If you manage a team, you want to support them and reduce chances of experiencing imposter syndrome. Let’s take a look at a few ways.

[inline illustration] Imposter syndrome (abstract)

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1. Establish clear expectations early on

Explaining the job expectations, metrics for success, and progress checkpoints helps give your direct reports a clear sense of how they’re doing. This can boost self-confidence and combat feelings of self-doubt associated with the impostor phenomenon.

Start by setting expectations on your team member’s first day of work by implementing a 30-60-90 day plan. These should be shorter-term goals that they can accomplish while onboarding and learning more about the company. 

Once the new hire is more established, work with them to set longer-term key performance indicators, or KPIs. The key here is making sure their goals are always measurable and time-bound. If necessary, use a goal-setting methodology, like the SMART goal acronym.

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Asana team member
Läs: Skriv bättre SMART-mål med de här tipsen och exemplen

2. Provide immediate opportunities for connection

In addition to laying out the path for success from day one, make sure everyone also has ample opportunity to connect with other teammates. Social support is crucial for maintaining well-being and managing stress related to imposter syndrome.

One of the best ways to do this is to set your new team member up with a mentor. Their mentor should be a peer on an adjacent team so they have someone to talk to who isn’t their manager.

Similarly, make sure all team members are aware of any resources your organization offers, such as Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). You can also connect them to people with similar interests, like a pet lovers’ group.

3. Foster open communication

It can be intimidating if team members don’t know where to ask questions or who to approach. Without a clear sense of team and communication norms, team members can have a hard time overcoming that initial hurdle. This uncertainty can fuel impostor feelings and make individuals feel like they don't belong.

To help, managers can set up a time to sit with team members and answer any questions they have. For example, make sure to cover:

  • Which tool to use when?

  • Who should they go to if they have questions?

  • Team conventions for things like asking questions during meetings

A communication plan reduces the guesswork and lowers the barrier to entry for easier communication.

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Läs: 12 tips för effektiv kommunikation på arbetsplatsen

4. Check in frequently 

Consider implementing a check-in during your 1:1 meetings, offering a place for the team member to share how they’re doing. When managers are transparent about their personal experiences, it encourages team members to do the same.

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5. Share feedback early and often

More often than not, imposter syndrome isn’t based on the reality of a team member’s situation. Sometimes, feedback—both positive and constructive—helps team members get a better sense of how they’re doing.

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6. Support their career growth interests

Sometimes, team members don’t believe they’re good at what they’re doing. Self-doubt and low self-esteem are hallmarks of the impostor phenomenon. The best way managers can help overcome imposter syndrome is by engaging with their team members’ career interests.

For example, if someone is interested in becoming a people manager, offer them a role as a new hire’s mentor or take ownership of a new intern’s project during the summer. Showing your team members that you believe in them and are committed to their career growth can provide the confidence boost they need. Increasing self-efficacy is key to overcoming impostor syndrome in the workplace.

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Conquer imposter syndrome with confidence

If you believe you’re experiencing imposter syndrome at your job—or notice it in a teammate—try the above 15 strategies. You can also talk to your mentor or manager, who, in return, can reassure you with positive feedback. Imposter syndrome can be an overwhelming, isolating feeling, but you can overcome it with a supportive team and tools.

Anatomy of Work Special Report: The unexplored link between impostor syndrome and burnout

Burnout and impostor syndrome have historically been studied as two separate phenomena. In this report, we connect the dots to help leaders slow burnout and increase employee retention.

Anatomy of Work Special Report: The unexplored link between imposter syndrome and burnout page banner image

Frequently asked questions about imposter syndrome

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon characterized by persistent feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, and fear of being exposed as a "fraud" despite evidence of one's accomplishments and competence. Individuals with imposter syndrome often attribute their success to external factors, such as luck or timing, rather than their own abilities and hard work.

How do I know if I have imposter syndrome?

Common signs of imposter syndrome include:

1. Doubting your abilities and accomplishments

2. Attributing success to external factors instead of your own skills

3. Fear of being exposed as a "fraud"

4. Setting unrealistic expectations for yourself

5. Overworking to compensate for perceived inadequacies

If you consistently experience these feelings, you may be struggling with imposter syndrome.

Who is most prone to imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of their background or profession. However, research suggests that it is more prevalent among high-achieving individuals, perfectionists, and those in competitive or male-dominated fields. Additionally, people from underrepresented or marginalized groups, such as women and racial or ethnic minorities, may be more susceptible to imposter syndrome due to systemic barriers and discrimination.

Is it imposter or impostor syndrome?

Both "imposter" and "impostor" are acceptable spellings for this phenomenon. The term "impostor phenomenon" was first coined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 article, "The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention." Since then, the terms "imposter syndrome," "impostor syndrome," and "the impostor syndrome" have been used interchangeably to describe the experience of persistent self-doubt and feelings of fraudulence despite evidence of success.

How do you fix imposter syndrome?

Overcoming imposter syndrome involves a combination of self-reflection, cognitive restructuring, and seeking support:

1. Acknowledge and validate your feelings

2. Challenge negative self-talk and reframe your thoughts

3. Focus on facts and evidence of your accomplishments

4. Celebrate your successes and learn from your failures

5. Share your experiences with trusted friends, family, or colleagues

6. Seek mentorship or professional guidance

7. Practice self-compassion and embrace your unique strengths

Remember that overcoming imposter syndrome is a process, and it may take time and effort to develop a more accurate and positive self-perception.

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