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Imposter Phenomenon has hit most UK workers

Published: 11 June 2019 at 13:00

Woman using a laptop

New report shows 70% have experienced fear of being ‘found out’ at least once

A new report indicates that 70% of UK workers have experienced Imposter Phenomenon at least once during their working lives.

The survey of 2,286 UK workers carried out by academics from Anglia Ruskin University and recruitment website Totaljobs, found that those who perceive themselves to be part of a minority within the workplace are more likely to be susceptible. 

Imposter Phenomenon is a dual fear of both failure and success. Those who are experiencing it first-hand share an irrational fear being ‘found out’ and exposed as frauds by their colleagues, and are also willing to let others take the credit for their work.

Unlike self-doubt or lack of self-confidence, both of which often fade as we gain experience, ‘Imposters’ struggle to recognise their own capabilities, skills and successes. Often, they will find any means to deflect praise onto others in the belief that any success of their own can only be attributed to either fluke or luck.

The report, the first of its kind to be carried out in the UK, found that women are 10% more likely to experience Imposter Phenomenon compared to their male counterparts. Both gay and bisexual workers are more likely to experience it compared to their straight colleagues. Bisexual workers, in particular, are 9% more likely to question their ability in the workplace.

Across generations too, the fear of being discovered as a fraud divides us, with Baby Boomers (55 to 75 years old) being 11% less likely than millennials to question their professional suitability.

Working with Totaljobs, Dr Terri Simpkin and Kate Atkin from Anglia Ruskin University have set out 5 ways to beat Imposter Phenomenon; calling it out, getting a mentor, listing your achievements, changing your language and assessing your expectations.

Dr Terri Simpkin, Visiting Fellow in Anglia Ruskin’s Faculty of Business & Law, said:

“There are huge numbers of people in the UK who believe themselves to be simply not good enough for their job, despite being clearly and evidently capable.

“Every day, up and down the country, millions of people are batting away praise, diminishing their own achievements and setting increasingly unrealistic standards for themselves.  Women, in particular, may experience the ‘double whammy’ of being both disadvantaged in the workplace and held back by their own involuntary sense of not being good enough. 

“Take all these factors together and Imposter Phenomenon is seriously damaging our careers, blocking potential promotions, pay rises and ultimately any enjoyment that we might get out of going to work.”

Kate Atkin, a PhD researcher at Anglia Ruskin University, said:

“I encourage those who think they might be experiencing Imposter Phenomenon to talk about it. I think they will soon realise that they are far from on their own. By endlessly comparing ourselves to the achievements of others we can often forget to reflect on our own success. Recognise your professional skills. Don’t just put them down to luck.”