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Why is Imposter Syndrome on the rise?

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In the first of two blogs looking at Imposter Syndrome, our facilitator and D and I expert Catherine Hamilton looks at what is causing the rise in Imposter Syndrome and why we should be concerned

Imposter syndrome is surprisingly common in the workplace (1) and is the idea or feeling that we don’t deserve what we have, and that we’re currently just faking it all. Once primarily associated with women and people of colour, modern workplaces can inadvertently create a cultural ‘fit’, where many who feel they are “imposters” exist.

It has been a topic in the media for some time but what is causing this “epidemic” that so many employees feel that they don’t fit in and are scared of being “found out”.

The aftereffects of the pandemic have caused more uncertainty, heightened change, and the need to reconnect again for many. Having adapted once in challenging circumstances, we are now having to readapt. So of course, we feel anxious and unprepared.

And the more people feel like this, the more they feel like an “outsider” – that they don’t really belong.

Back in 2018 EY carried out a survey The Belonging Barometer Survey.

This highlighted the 3 key motivators needed and expected for employees to feel like they belong. Not surprisingly they are:
1) when they feel trusted and respected
2) when they can speak freely and voice their opinion
3) when their unique contributions are valued

The survey also concluded that social exclusion at work makes people feel ignored, stressed, sad and more than half of all respondents feel exclusion is a form of bullying.

Underpinning this is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Once our basic needs are met, we have an innate need to belong – the third tier. It is why employee network groups are so successful – they provide a safe place for sharing, caring and understanding. We can co-create that psychological safety in our workspaces too.

Imposter Syndrome can be felt as not belonging, not fitting in and even not deserving of being able to belong. These feelings and emotions can prevent you from thriving in the work environment. Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes first investigated ‘Imposter Phenomenon’ in the 1970s, and it came to widespread public attention through Clance’s book on the topic in 1985. (2)

Some key traits and signs of IS can include:
• Inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
• Attributing your success to luck and external factors
• Berating your performance
• Fear that you won’t live up to expectations
• Overachieving
• Sabotaging your own success
• Self-doubt
• Setting challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short

This can be wearing, depressing and cause burn out and stress.

However, raising awareness around IS and its impact can help us to recognise some of these signs and help us to take action to combat it.

In the next blog we will look at what we can do in the form of self-help and what we can do to support others.


2. Clance PR, Imes SA. The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy Theory Research & Practice. 1978;15(3):241–7. [Google Scholar]

If you would like help with creating a more inclusive workplace where belonging is key or to help individuals or managers recognise the signs of Imposter Syndrome and override them. Please contact us for a confidential discussion; phone us on 01903 732 782, email us at or contact us.