Imposter Syndrome

This quick guide provides an overview of imposter syndrome in the context of employment.

The resource includes a definition of imposter syndrome along with an overview of related legislative activity and guidance for the workplace. It also offers suggestions as to what your organisation can do to support employees and address obstacles that may be associated with imposter syndrome. 

What is imposter syndrome? 

Imposter syndrome is also known as imposter phenomenon or impostorism. NHS Health Education England describes Imposter Phenomenon as “…a psychological occurrence where people doubt their skills, abilities, or achievements and have an internalised fear of being exposed as frauds. Despite external evidence to the contrary, those experiencing this phenomenon do not believe they are deserving of their success or position.” 

The term imposter syndrome was first used in 1978. It appeared in the article, The impostor phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. written by Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes. 

Clance’s Imposter Phenomenon (IP) page explores how she initially experienced impostor syndrome as a graduate student but thought these worries were specific to her. It wasn’t until Clance began teaching at a college, when students came to her with the same feelings of inadequacy and anxiety, that she and Imes proposed the concept of imposter syndrome and introduced the term. 

How can imposter syndrome affect individuals? 

Imposter syndrome can vary from person to person. Zencare’s Impostor Syndrome post provides some indicators, including: 

  • Feeling inadequate and lacking self confidence; 
  • Experiencing a sense of dishonesty, particularly when compared to others who seem competent and successful; 
  • Doubting judgement and capabilities; 
  • Using negative language to describe themselves; 
  • Setting impossibly high standards with a fear of failure; 
  • Finding it hard to accept praise; 
  • Neglecting self care, due to being too busy or too drained from working long days; 
  • Associating success with luck instead of attributing it to being prepared and working hard; or
  • Taking on extra tasks to reflect versatility and reliability. 

How can imposter syndrome specifically affect individuals in the workplace? 

Imposter syndrome can happen to anyone. It can occur at any time and in various situations. It might look like the inability to accept personal praise or going overboard on challenging, often ambitious goals, which can lead to burnout.  

In the workplace, this can happen when people feel like they’ll soon get in trouble or “be found out” for being in a role, even when they rightfully earned that position and the associated responsibilities. Because of a person’s tendency to hide and hold themselves back, this can sometimes give rise to missed opportunities, lost contributions, or unfulfilled goals. 

While imposter syndrome is often considered a negative experience, some argue that there may be a few positive aspects, such as motivation to excel or an increased sense of self awareness. With suitable support, certain individuals might be inspired to explore new opportunities that could lead to growth. 

When might imposter syndrome be experienced more frequently? 

While not limited to the following examples, imposter syndrome may appear in individuals who are: 

  • Starting a new role; 
  • Accepting a recent promotion; 
  • Returning to work after a career break or illness; 
  • Undergoing perimenopause, menopause, or andropause; 
  • Members of underrepresented groups;  
  • Experiencing periods of anxiety, burnout, or a sense of being overwhelmed; or 
  • Changing the status quo as the first – or only – person in a certain position up until that point in time. 

According to research conducted by the Executive Development Network (EDN), it is possible for individuals from certain groups to experience imposter syndrome more frequently than others. The findings of EDN’s research are examined on the organisation’s Prescribing Success page, which analyses the results of a survey of 5,000 individuals with various demographic backgrounds. 

Legislation, standards, and imposter syndrome 

Individuals with impostor syndrome are not directly protected under equality and discrimination law in the UK. However, following Clance and Imes’ 1978 article, there have been additional studies that have explored the causes, effects, and other aspects of imposter syndrome.  

Consequently, there have been indications that imposter syndrome might exist alongside anxiety, depression, and other progressive, long-term mental health conditions. For more information on related conditions that may be covered by legislation, refer to guidance from the Government Equalities Office regarding the definition of a disability in Great Britain. 

In Northern Ireland, protection from discrimination based on disability is covered by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and subsequent amendments. Details on equality legislation in Northern Ireland can be found on the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland website. 

What can organisations do?  

Here are 10 tips for creating a more inclusive workplace environment for individuals with imposter syndrome. It could be helpful to discuss any actions with individuals privately to identify what approaches, if any, might be most appreciated. 

  1. Acknowledge their feelings. It is important to acknowledge that imposter syndrome exists and can affect people in diverse ways.  
  1. Help them learn to accept praise. Speak to the individual using positive language and show them some tangible evidence of when they have impressed you or have done a good job. If they find it hard to accept praise, talk it through; ask if they can recognise what prompted the praise; find and share evidence to illustrate why the praise was worthy. 
  1. Create a support system. Support can come from a friend, a peer, a line manager, or someone else. Accessing that support involves discussing feelings and needs—this takes trust. One of the challenges of imposter syndrome is the feeling of being judged, so it may be more effective to seek out support from a professional or someone they don’t know. 
  1. Educate yourself. For those who lead, manage, or supervise colleagues, inform and educate yourself about imposter syndrome so you can support the people you work with. 
  1. Respect the individual’s privacy. Don’t discuss someone’s imposter syndrome without their consent and keep this information secure so it is not shared in an e-mail or in an open office environment.  
  1. Be mindful of wellbeing. There may be certain activities that increase imposter syndrome and therefore add to anxiety or fear for individuals. If you can both identify what might affect someone’s imposter syndrome, you could discuss measures that would help them build the confidence to participate in a manner that is comfortable.  
  1. Offer reasonable adjustments. This may be important if imposter syndrome is related to a protected characteristic or occurs after someone returns to work after a break. Adjustments might include:  
  • Allowing more time for projects or assignments; 
  • Offering flexible or remote working for an agreed period; 
  • Providing additional tools, platforms, or support; or
  • Documenting success to show factual evidence of performance.
  1. Focus on understanding. Imposter syndrome is not frequently discussed or diagnosed. Be receptive if an employee brings the subject up and wishes to share information. Encourage them to talk about positive measures to overcome challenges.  
  1. Develop awareness campaigns. Conduct awareness campaigns within the organisation to educate employees about imposter syndrome, lack of confidence, and anxiety. This can help reduce stigma, promote understanding, and create a more supportive workplace for everyone.  
  1. Explore additional training options. Build your own coaching techniques to bring out the best in individuals with imposter syndrome. Keep learning by reading about suitable actions you can take to improve your own awareness and understanding. Ensure managers are trained as well, so they are aware of what accommodations can be made.  

Some of these actions may benefit all employees. The key is to provide a safe space where employees can be open and transparent about any worries or concerns they might have. 


It is important to understand the specific processes that can take place when impostor syndrome occurs. It’s also helpful to understand the social patterns that can serve to perpetuate impostor syndrome. Remember that everyone is different, so try to tailor measures accordingly to help individuals overcome imposter syndrome and thrive in the workplace. 

The information contained within this resource was accurate at the time of its publication. This guide was created in July 2024. 

External resources

Got a comment? Contact us