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How to deal with imposter syndrome among your employees

5 Jul 2021

Asana’s Simon O’Kane offers advice for managers to help ensure their employees’ imposter syndrome doesn’t become a full-blown confidence crisis.

As Covid-19 restrictions lift and the global economy starts to expand, it seems social media is awash with ‘some personal news’ announcements.

While celebrating success is important after a year of so much loss, if you’re not typing up a LinkedIn post about your latest career win, it can feel like you’re getting left behind. Scrolling through lists of other people’s achievements, it’s easy to doubt your own.

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If you’ve experienced increased feelings of self-doubt at work during the pandemic, you’re not alone. According to research from Asana’s Anatomy of Work Index 2021, 62pc of knowledge workers globally have experienced imposter syndrome in the past year, with 47pc reporting these feelings increasing in 2020 over previous years.

The modern workforce is facing a full-blown confidence crisis.

It’s not hard to understand why. Imposter syndrome predates Covid-19 but the pandemic has greatly exacerbated the issue. The mass shift to remote working has meant many have lost visibility of their colleagues’ work, pushing themselves to live up to unrealistic standards.

Losing visibility of how your work contributes to business success also saps confidence, combined with fewer opportunities to connect and celebrate achievements. Then there’s parents and caregivers simultaneously juggling childcare and homeschooling, and new hires trying to adapt to an office culture that has mostly existed online for the past year. It’s little wonder that work confidence has plummeted.

The confidence crisis may seem too complex to handle. But inaction is not an option if businesses want to see their teams and businesses grow to their full potential. Lack of confidence leads to disengagement and both are dangers to employees’ health and wellbeing and, subsequently, overall company-wide success.

‘Confidence can be personally developed but it’s a business leader’s job to nurture it in their workforce’
– SIMON O’KANE

One way to rebuild confidence among distributed teams is to consciously set aside time to celebrate achievements and give feedback, even if employees are working remotely. Don’t wait for an annual review to connect with team members. Instead, carve out time to verbalise your feedback in person, where possible, to reduce the chance of misinterpretation.

It’s also important to build a culture of transparency and admit when mistakes are made in your company, so employees can see senior leaders show vulnerability and accountability. That way, teams learn how to deal with difficult situations by example. This counteracts imposter syndrome by showing that 24/7 perfection is not expected while empowering employees to show up authentically, ask for help and collaborate with confidence.

Tackling the confidence crisis is also a key concern in terms of retaining talent. If an employee is feeling isolated and undervalued, then they’ll start looking for opportunities elsewhere. Asana’s recent research shows that, across the globe, just 15pc feel completely heard by their organisation, while seven in 10 (71pc) of workers report experiencing burnout at least once in 2020.

The intense pressures and dramatic changes of the pandemic have given people a chance to reflect on their personal priorities and goals. If companies don’t do something to invest in the health and development of their employees, they’ll watch their talent walk out the door.

One way to address potential talent loss is by making employee goal-tracking a central part of your business. With a single source of truth for setting, tracking and managing company goals, every team member can see how their work contributes to company goals, why certain work is being prioritised, and what impact that work has on the achievement of their company’s mission.

This level of clarity empowers teams, providing individuals across every level with clarity on the company’s priorities at any given time and understanding of how their team efforts feed into company-wide accomplishments. Teams that can see that their hard work has value and is appreciated will be able to be more confident in their work.

Leaders also need to look at how they can mitigate the variety of social forces that fuel imposter syndrome. If businesses are serious about tackling imposter syndrome, they have to practise inclusion. By building an inclusive work culture that empowers individuals to be real about the things that are impacting how they show up to work and establishing a community where people can share and support others through shared experiences.

This creates an environment where everyone feels confident and accepted, allowing people to do their best work and thrive.

Confidence can be personally developed but it’s a business leader’s job to nurture it in their workforce. Imposter syndrome and self-doubt are affecting the vast majority of employees and, left unchecked, it hurts individuals, teams and companies as a whole. As companies navigate their way out of one crisis, they have an opportunity – and a business imperative – to avoid accepting another.

By Simon O’Kane

Simon O’Kane is the head of EMEA at Asana, a work management platform to help teams organise and track their work.

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