What is Imposter Syndrome?

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome can affect anyone at any time and most especially those stepping into a new role [1].

So, what exactly is Imposter Syndrome? Its defined as ‘anxiety or self-doubt that results from persistently undervaluing one’s competence and active role in achieving success, while falsely attributing one’s accomplishments to luck or other external forces’ [2]

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer for Facebook, and Michelle Obama have both spoken of the effects self-doubt and the effect it has had on their careers. Imposter Syndrome is being discussed more often and CIPD research suggests 7 in 10 knowledge workers have felt the effects of Imposter Syndrome over the last year alone [3].

Imposter Syndrome in Action

Jacqueline Dobson, (President of Barrhead Travel) recently gave a keynote speech at an Inspiring Women event arranged by the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce that I attended, where she was honest and heartfelt about her progression from a travel agent into the most senior position in the company. Jacqueline spoke about her rise in the company and the struggles she dealt with, including Imposter Syndrome and her concern about her ability to do the job she was being promoted to. In a motivating speech Jacqueline showed that with hard work, determination and believing in yourself you can make it to high-level positions – and succeed when you get there.

The Negative Effect of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome can have such a negative effect that it prevents career development due to self-doubt and fear.

Imposter Syndrome can negatively influence employees preventing them from speaking up in meetings for fear that their contribution will not be valuable. Others will not apply for promotions as they lack self-belief in their own skills and abilities to undertake top leadership positions. Organisations are then missing out on highly competent people applying for new roles or promotions as they feel they will not be successful or doubt their abilities to do the job.

Often employees will stay where they are comfortable and where they know they can complete tasks with ease. Gently pushing employees to break out of their comfort zone and to work in new areas can increase their self-belief.

How to help your employees overcome Importer Syndrome

Employers are encouraged to have strong diversity and inclusion policies so that all employees feel valued and supported in their roles. This will support a culture where everyone’s ideas and contributions are respected and considered [4].

Support employees who feel they are under qualified or that they are not as smart or knowledgeable as others in the team, to break through Imposter Syndrome. Offering training courses when starting new roles or projects and having a mentor can make a difference and allow employees to flourish.

Helping employees to examine their successes and the contribution they make to an organisation, through feedback, celebrating success or praising a job well done, can help in understanding their true value and see their own self-worth in the office [5].

Ultimately you want employees to see how far they have come and that they can achieve more if they want to.


Albany HR, your outsourced HR Partner, has a team with over 50 years’ combined experience. We help you succeed through your people and can assist in all areas of HR including:

•           Organisation & Job Design

•           People Strategy

•           Recognition & Reward

•           Employee Relations

•           Employee Wellbeing

•           HR Policies & Employment Contracts

•           Leadership Coaching

•           Talent Management

Get in touch to discuss if our services can support you. Email us: letstalk@albanyhr.com or call for a chat: 0131 364 4186.