What is ‘Imposter Syndrome’? And how is it affecting businesses?

Employment & Skills | Surveys

New research from AXA PPP healthcare reveals that one in five SME owners suffer from Imposter Syndrome – the fear of being exposed in your job as a fraud, inadequate or a failure despite evidence proving you’re successful and capable. 

Nearly half (45%) of those affected are even convinced someone else could run their business better.

With procrastination (30%) and avoiding opportunities (28%) widely acknowledged by owners experiencing this phenomenon, it’s unsurprising that nearly a third (31%) admit that Imposter Syndrome has prevented them from taking their business to the next level.

But self-doubt doesn’t stop there. It affects employees too. Nearly three in ten (28%) say they experience imposter feelings – which is a concern for managers wanting the best from their team and the best for their business.

Under-confidence looms large with Imposter Syndrome, the findings suggest. Over half of SME owners affected (52%) admit that low self-esteem led them to feeling like an imposter, with four in ten (42%) comparing themselves with others and over one in four (27%) doubting their decisions.

Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services at AXA PPP healthcare, commented: “Starting a business from scratch or taking the reins of a small organisation is a bold move. With this level of responsibility it’s inevitable to have that voice of self-doubt interrupting your decision making from time to time. But this negative internal talk can give rise to a heightened – and unreasonable – sense of fear that can hinder your chances of progress and success.

“Imposter Syndrome is a widespread but little-known phenomenon so understanding how to overcome fraudulent feelings and nurture a more confident self – and team – will go a long way towards bolstering confidence and performance.”

Despite a significant proportion of the UK’s workforce feeling like imposters, nearly three-quarters (73%) of the people polled said they have never heard of the Imposter Syndrome phenomenon.

To take on those imposter feelings Dr Winwood encourages people to be TRUE:

  • Talk to a supportive friend, colleague or family member – don’t keep your fears to yourself
  • Remind yourself of your successes, document them and be inspired by your achievements
  • Use evidence to dispute and diffuse your inner bully
  • Evaluate how you’ve overcome imposter moments and share your learnings with others

He concludes: “It’s important not to let self-doubt exacerbate our fear of failure, which may overwhelm us or crush our confidence. Instead, own your fears – use them as a positive, motivating force. Channel your fear into situations that daunt you and push yourself. Ask ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ And go for it, with a more resilient mind-set and a stronger business.”

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