Imposter syndrome: How to ensure your staff do not wallow in self-doubt


Employers should avoid constantly highlighting an employee's challenges with imposter syndrome in every discussion or meeting. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

How many times have you struggled with imposter syndrome? Imposter syndrome which is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud has become a common topic of discussion behind closed doors in hushed tones.

This is an often-unspoken challenge that many people struggle with in workplaces, which most times becomes an invisible barrier.

Read: Unseen battle with imposter syndrome

For most employees, as deadlines near and deliverables lag, the belief in self as a very capable worker begins to wane. Performance may also be affected, as so is one's mental health. So, how do you ensure your employees do not wallow in imposter syndrome?

Nelson Ogudha, a human resources (HR) expert, emphasises the importance of allowing employees to voice their side of the story.

"By opening a dialogue and refraining from hasty judgments, employers can make more reasoned decisions and find mutual understanding," he says.

Picking the positives

On the other hand, if an employee's error results in a loss for the company, Mr Ogudha recommends assessing the severity of the mistake.

Depending on its magnitude, appropriate disciplinary actions should be implemented or measures to rectify the error taken.

"Pick their positive points. For example, as a salesperson who managed to secure a big shot client but delayed sending the quotation thinking they were overstepping and the boss should be the one to send it instead. This misstep caused the client to grow cold feet and they left.

However, it is crucial to recognise and commend the salesperson's achievement in initially securing the client. They should then be empowered on how to confidently close the deal," he explains.

Mr Ogudha is quick to point out that continuous errors by an employee should not be overlooked. If the same mistakes are addressed, and pointed out, and guidance is provided repeatedly, yet there is no improvement, then disciplinary measures are welcomed.

This could indicate that the issue isn't really imposter syndrome but rather an attitude problem or a lack of necessary skills.

"For instance, if an employee excels at attracting clients but wavers at sealing the deal due to imposter syndrome, a solution might be to pair them with a colleague who's adept at finalising transactions. This collaboration can harness each individual's strengths and lead to more successful outcomes."

Be it as it may, Mr Ogudha underscores that if the employee's performance is gauged by the number of deals they have closed, then an agile working agreement should be adopted.

This means, taking an employee to a place where they thrive best, giving them support and making them lead.

Discussing imposter syndrome

Blanche Watuma, an HR practitioner emphasises that while certain employees might be reluctant to discuss their battles with imposter syndrome, establishing a culture of open communication from the beginning can create a more receptive environment for those who might otherwise remain silent or resign.

"The dread of unforeseen consequences following an error can prevent employees from confronting or even acknowledging their missteps. By implementing structured programmes and workshops within the organisation that guide and demonstrate the appropriate steps after a mistake, employees can gain reassurance and a sense of worth, knowing they have the support and tools to navigate and rectify their errors."

Moreover, Ms Watuma suggests that carrying out assessments to identify employees struggling with imposter syndrome can help in crafting customised solutions, addressing the unique needs of each individual.

"Creating awareness and scheduling training opportunities for those employees will not only protect their dignity but also help them combat feelings of imposter syndrome," she says.

However, the rule of thumb when dealing with an employee battling imposter syndrome, Ms Watuma advises that employers should avoid constantly highlighting an employee's challenges with imposter syndrome in every discussion or meeting they hold and instead mention their achievements.

"Set realistic goals for those grappling with imposter syndrome. This way, during reviews, there's an achievement to applaud, fostering a boost in their self-confidence," she suggests.

Ms Watuma points out that recognising and accepting one's struggles with imposter syndrome is fundamental to addressing it. Once acknowledged, it's vital for the employee to proactively seek the help they need.

Read: Tackling leadership impostor syndrome

Word of caution

Yet, she adds a word of caution: while the organisation can provide support and resources, the ultimate responsibility for addressing these feelings rests squarely on the employee's shoulders.

"Remember if you do not get any encouragement from your bosses it is your responsibility to push and commend yourself."

When overseeing a group or team, Ms Watuma emphasises the significance of employers recognising individuals with high emotional intelligence.

This ensures that those grappling with imposter syndrome are not inadvertently embarrassed or put on the spot.

"As an employer, understanding the diverse personalities of your staff is essential. It's crucial to avoid pairing individuals in ways that might inadvertently intensify the challenges of those confronting imposter syndrome," she says.

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