askST Jobs: Overcoming impostor syndrome at work

If experienced on a prolonged basis, imposter syndrome could lead to serious mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. PHOTO: PEXELS

In this series, manpower reporter Tay Hong Yi offers practical answers to candid questions on navigating workplace challenges and getting ahead in your career.

Q: My co-workers’ achievements make me feel like an impostor. How do I overcome that feeling?

A: Impostor syndrome stems from a deep-seated sense of inadequacy that raises self-doubt about one’s own competence, said Dr Tania Nagpaul, senior lecturer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences.

If it is experienced on a prolonged basis, imposter syndrome could lead to serious mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as negative work outcomes like poor performance and low job satisfaction.

“It is also likely to stunt career growth as people with imposter syndrome are less likely to go after promotions as they feel undeserving of them,” said the psychologist.

Dr Nagpaul added that the best way to combat feeling like an impostor is to seek affirmation and validation of one’s contributions to the workplace.

“Disclosing such feelings to a trusted colleague or mentor may help the employee gain confidence when they learn that others view their contributions in a positive light,” she said.

“Furthermore, if there is room for pulling more of your weight at work, do so and get rid of the feeling of being an impostor.”

Meanwhile, overperforming colleagues can help to mitigate the risk of sparking impostor syndrome among their peers by maintaining a collaborative and helpful attitude.

Mr Chirag Agarwal, co-founder of counselling platform Talk Your Heart Out, said impostor syndrome might arise at the workplace when an employee is just starting out, or is a perfectionist.

He said: “When you are starting a new job, or transitioning to a new role at work, there may be systems and processes that you are unfamiliar with and skills you have yet to hone.

“During such times, you may second-guess yourself and doubt your own abilities more frequently.

“This may be exacerbated by comparing your own progress with a co-worker’s achievements, even though you got the new job or role because of your abilities and potential in the first place.”

He added: “Having exacting standards in all areas of your life means that it is inevitable that you will not live up to some of them, making you feel inadequate and like an imposter.”

Employees who experience impostor syndrome, he said, can consider reaching out to a co-worker they trust and have worked closely with when the colleague has the capacity and is available to listen, such as during a less hectic period at work.

Mr Agarwal said: “This allows the other party to listen intently, share their experience working with the employee and recognise the employee’s strengths.

“This will help dispel the feeling of fraudulence the employee faces.”

He also said bosses and colleagues can help relieve impostor syndrome by providing the employee with specific feedback or praise, wherever they deem fit.

Mr Agarwal added: “This gives them a clearer direction moving forward and builds their confidence, as they now know exactly what they need to work on to improve themselves or what they are doing right.

“It also allows them to understand that they are valued at the company, and that you are coming from a place of genuine concern.”

Bosses and colleagues can also gently challenge the self-limiting beliefs the employee has and shed light on alternative perspectives, said Mr Agarwal.

He said: “They could perhaps question why the employee feels this way, or bring up evidence that reflects the contrary, such as key instances where the employee has shown improvement or performed well.

“An empathetic yet objective point of view enables the employee to gradually recognise their strengths and contributions in the workplace and reduces their feeling of inadequacy.”

Employees must be prepared to seek professional support, such as with a therapist or counsellor, if the impostor syndrome persists despite their efforts and those of their co-workers.

Mr Agarwal said: “Sometimes, beliefs are deep-seated and based on circumstances or incidents unknown to the person.

“So one can consider seeking professional help to unpack and understand why one holds such beliefs before trying to overcome them.”

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