Those who suffer from imposter syndrome, are in good company. Albert Einstein, Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, and Emma Watson, along with 82% of the rest of us, have wrestled with impostor syndrome. What is it, you may ask? It’s a yammering internal critic that challenges the validity of your successes. That critic’s voice often gets magnified working remotely where managers and team members are not present to help combat it in person. Thankfully, you and your team can send it packing if you take the right approach.
How imposter syndrome sneaks into the remote workplace
In 2020, 62% of knowledge workers experienced imposter syndrome. 47% of them said these feelings increased when working in a remote environment. A few groups are more at risk than others.
- 80% of new hires suffered from imposter syndrome.
- 67% of parents with children at home did too, compared to employees without those responsibilities (57%).
What is it about the remote environment that might exacerbate imposter syndrome?
- Employees may no longer experience the social cues that are used to validate their performance.
- They have fewer opportunities to receive casual feedback from their boss or teammates.
- They find it difficult to get a read on tones and perceptions relayed via chat messages and emails—the default method of remote communication—so it’s easy to assume the worse.
These challenges are compounded by managers who may not have adjusted well themselves to remote work. In a misguided attempt to increase productivity, they sometimes micromanage employees. This approach backfires when employees believe their boss doesn’t trust them or think they are capable. Conversely, managers might go to the other extreme. They may give too much leeway to employees, become virtually absent, or seem disinterested thereby leaving employees to feel out of the loop.
When employees don’t receive the necessary cues and feedback from managers or teammates to feel confident about their performance, their inner critic takes over. They worry about not living up to expectations and being exposed as a weak link.
How to spot employees with imposter syndrome
Imposter Syndrome has a detrimental effect on an employee’s performance and wellbeing. If you know what to look for, you can catch it before it takes hold. Employees with imposter syndrome might procrastinate because they’re afraid their efforts won’t measure up. Productivity suffers when they spend too much time going for perfection to avoid any hint of failure.
Because they’re unwilling to take risks and make mistakes, they resist trying anything new. Change is a threat to their fragile self-image.
Stuck in a cycle of negative self-talk, employees with imposter syndrome will not likely acknowledge their strengths. They may also micromanage because they’re unwilling to trust and delegate. They don’t accept stretch projects. They sometimes become the office martyr, working longer hours than anyone else and losing complete control of healthy work/life boundaries.
Imposter syndrome can leave employees feeling unworthy of their jobs and doubtful about their potential. They can then be reluctant to pursue professional development and advance their career.
How to help employees overcome or avoid imposter syndrome
A remote team’s individual and collective wellbeing depends on a manager’s ability to understand what’s going on with their staff, provide the support and coaching they need, and create healthy working conditions.
- Prevent wrong impressions. It’s better to over-communicate so people don’t fill in the blanks inaccurately. Remind your team to treat their written communication carefully since it can be easily misinterpreted.
- Offer frequent feedback. Everyone needs validation—and not just a few times a year. Employees need to know when their work meets expectations. Building feedback loops into your team’s workflow allows each employee to receive feedback from different perspectives, which can further validate their efforts.
- Acknowledge strengths. Balance constructive criticism with a recognition of the employee’s strengths. A CliftonStrengths assessment can help you identify those strengths and affirm their fit for the job.
- Coach and empower. Schedule regular check-ins with your staff to:
- Provide targeted and specific feedback.
- Celebrate small wins.
- Show genuine appreciation for their efforts and accomplishments.
- Meet quarterly with each employee to talk about your expectations and highlight their contributions and progress on departmental and organizational goals, specifically where their skills and knowledge made an impact. Discuss how you can support their career goals and aspirations.
- Check your signals. Assess the signals you and your organization send out. Do you act as if you like, trust, and respect each employee? Make sure their treatment and compensation match the value they provide, especially if they’ve taken on new responsibilities during the pandemic. Women and BIPOC have higher rates of imposter syndrome because unconscious bias sends out the wrong message to them. How inclusive is your organization? Do employees believe they all have the same opportunity to get ahead in their careers? Do they have to code-switch at work, or can they be their authentic selves without having to worry?
- Combat isolation. Create opportunities for casual feedback among your team. Encourage camaraderie around the “conference table” by opening up Zoom or Teams several minutes before the meeting starts, so early arrivals have time to chat. A “watercooler” channel on your collaboration platform will help strengthen relationships and increase their sense of belonging and psychological safety.
Remote team managers can help their teams overcome imposter syndrome through understanding and support. To learn more about overcoming imposter syndrome and what you can do about it, check out our Learning Lab, Imposter Syndrome: A remote Work Trap.