Working with Totaljobs, researchers Dr. Terri Simpkin from The University of Nottingham and Kate Atkin MSc have set out 10 ways to beat Imposter Phenomenon.
Coronavirus has forced workers worldwide to deal with dramatic new uncertainties. For many, this has meant adjusting to a new pattern of remote working. But for others, it’s meant no longer having a job to do at all.
In 2019, Totaljobs’ own study discovered that a staggering seven in 10 workers in the UK had suffered from complex ‘imposter’ feelings that can sabotage careers and harm our mental health. So, in the era of coronavirus and lockdown, how are UK workers now coping with Imposter Phenomenon?
Imposter Phenomenon is a dual fear of both failure and success. Those who are experiencing it first-hand have an irrational fear of being ‘found out’ and exposed as frauds by their colleagues, often in the face of evidence to the contrary.
In our latest study of more than 2,000 workers in the UK, Totaljobs has seen a staggering 57% decrease compared to last year, with just three in 10 (30%) workers in 2020 finding themselves experiencing feelings of Imposter Phenomenon.
Dr. Terri Simpkin, Associate Professor at The University of Nottingham, suggests that the explanation behind this reduction is down to the dramatic shift in workers from the physical workplace to working from home.
‘Imposter Phenomenon is related to context and so if the context changes so can experience of Imposterism. It’s socially constructed so change the social circumstances and the experience may change too.’
However, one demographic still continues to feel the strain of Imposter Phenomenon on par with pre-COVID levels. 7 in 10 (71%) of those who have found themselves furloughed, laid off, or made redundant this year are experiencing Imposter Phenomenon. Individuals who have found themselves in these unfortunate scenarios may well have seen the reduction or removal of their role as a sign of personal failure, rather than a business decision – which can fuel a damaging sense of ‘not being good enough’.
Life experience is one factor that may help reduce Imposter Phenomenon, as evidenced by the fact that older generations appear to experience the phenomenon at much lower rates than those entering the workforce for the first time. Just 21% of the Baby Boomer generation (53-73 years old) experienced Imposter Phenomenon in 2020, less than half of the 48% found amongst Generation Z (15-24 years old).
For instance, older workers are much more likely to have weathered previous economic downturns, such as national recessions and previous global financial crises. This means they’re more likely to know how to navigate these and not question their abilities in the process.
The figures also suggest that working parents, particularly those with younger children, are also more likely to feel like ‘imposters’. Workers with children aged between 4-6 are 15% more likely to experience imposter Phenomenon than those without, similarly 14% for those with a child between the ages of 7-10, and 11% more with children aged 11to 13-years old.
Trying to juggle home-schooling alongside working at the kitchen table means that many parents could be trying to get too much done in a day. Striking the balance between being an attentive parent and a dedicated employee can mean people have overly high standards and set themselves up for disappointment when they don’t hit them.
Lockdown seems to have fed one of the cruelest ironies of Imposter Phenomenon. ‘Imposters’ are not only likely to see themselves as not doing well enough at work but they’re also likely to be overdoing it.
Almost two-thirds (63%) of workers admit they’ve worried that everyone has been more productive during lockdown than themselves, with 72% believing they haven’t achieved enough throughout the events of 2020.
Fear of failure can drive those experiencing Imposter Phenomenon to work harder and longer. This feeds anxiety and can create an exhausting and vicious cycle that eventually leads to burnout.
Sure enough, today’s report shows ‘‘imposters’ in lockdown are experiencing this in significant numbers. 40% of those experiencing imposter symptoms admit they’ve worked harder because of anxiety about the quality of their work. 39% say they’ve subsequently worked longer hours and an additional 35% have avoided taking annual leave or even sick days, to ensure their own impossibly high standards are maintained.
Professionalism, not heroism
If someone already sees themselves as an ‘imposter’ it’s also likely they’ll brush off praise. Similarly, calling them a hero is likely to make them hugely uncomfortable.
Key workers have rightly been lionised throughout 2020 for the crucial role they have played in helping to tackle the threat of coronavirus, whilst also ensuring that essential services continue across the country.
However, the subsequent media spotlight and public dedications, whilst deserved, are not necessarily welcomed by key workers themselves, particularly the use of the phrase ‘hero’.
Four in 10 (39%) of key workers say they don’t feel deserving of the ‘hero’ title and see themselves as ‘just ‘doing their job’. A further 24% think the use of ‘hero’ goes too far, which makes them feel uncomfortable and it’s an idolising term.
For people experiencing Imposter Phenomenon, the mythologising of their work can add to their anxiety about performing to a standard that is simply beyond expectation.
These latest survey results are a reminder that COVID-19 hasn’t affected us all equally. As the pandemic has shifted our working situations, so too has it shifted our experiences of working with Imposter Phenomenon and perceptions of ourselves.
Commenting on the findings of the survey, Dr. Terri Simpkin, Visiting Fellow at The University of Nottingham said, “It’s fascinating to see how the COVID-19 pandemic is having such a marked impact across all aspects of our lives and even in how we see ourselves.
To see such a rapid decrease in the number of workers who say they’re experiencing Imposter Phenomenon should be cause for optimism. This is very likely linked to the nationwide shift towards remote working practices.
Today’s study also shows that there are still huge numbers of people in the UK who, through circumstances outside of their control, find themselves in the unfortunate position of experiencing both Imposter Phenomenon and either precarious employment or no employment at all.
Those who experience Imposter Phenomenon are likely to have difficulty gathering evidence of successes and achievements in previous roles. They typically feel uncomfortable drawing praise for their past work.
The study also suggests that younger workers may experience a greater sense of imposterism as they may have less experience of working through a crisis or the radically changed working environments that have become the hallmark of 2020.”
Jon Wilson, CEO of Totaljobs added, “Although a topic that isn’t discussed enough, the impact Imposter Phenomenon continues to have on our working lives is all too clear. Today’s findings have revealed that workers who are already facing some of the most challenging and stressful working conditions are also having to contend with the damaging effects of this destructive phenomenon.
“The first thing for those who are experiencing Imposter Phenomenon is to recognise they are not alone. However, Imposter Phenomenon has become far too widespread and we need to acknowledge these feelings and make sure an individual’s negative perceptions of themselves are challenged.
“It can be all too easy to forget that every so often we need to praise and thank others for their efforts. Clear job descriptions, specific feedback, and a clear set of performance criteria act as objective, evidence-based tools, which workers have told us have helped them to feel less like a ‘fake’ at work and trust that they’re doing a good job.
“Managers, colleagues, and peers alike all have a role to play in championing the successes of others, especially in times where we feel further from each other than ever. We’re not superhuman, and making mistakes should be seen as a natural part of our careers, rather than something that makes someone question their value. By better understanding the impact of Imposter Phenomenon and ensuring that the workplace wins of our colleagues are recognised in a way that’s helpful, rather than putting anyone on a pedestal, we can begin to reverse this insidious trend.’’