We are reaching an interesting time in mental health. After many years of it being something hidden from public conversation – for example questions like ‘how are you?‘...
The first in the Unmind series of ‘In Conversation with…’ sees Just Eat’s Global Culture and Inclusion Partner, Hannah Millard share her insight on the topic of Imposter Syndrome in the workplace and how we can all play our part in creating a psychologically safe working environment.
But, what exactly is Imposter Syndrome? In simple terms, it can be best described as feeling like a fraud. Digging deeper, it can be defined as a psychological process where an individual doubts their abilities or achievements and holds a persistent fear of being exposed as inadequate. The person attributes their achievements to error or luck, rather than skill or experience, believing they have faked their way to success. People with Imposter Syndrome often experience a disconnect between how they see themselves and how others see them, viewing themselves as less capable. Imposter Syndrome frequently appears in the context of work, but often in numerous other domains such as education, training, parenting and relationships.
A study conducted by the Behavioural Science Research Institute in the USA suggested that approximately 70 percent of people will experience at least one episode of Imposter Syndrome in their lives. A startling percentage, and for many, it can significantly impact their wellbeing, confidence and productivity. Unmind’s Head of Psychology, Dr Heather Bolton, provides an overview of Imposter Syndrome in the workplace and the impact it can have on the individual.
“With Imposter Syndrome, people tend to experience a disconnect between the way they see themselves and the way that others see them, leading to the individual viewing themselves as less capable than they actually are. Of course, this can leave people feeling very vulnerable in the workplace, constantly feeling like they don’t measure up. I’ve certainly experienced my own sense of being an imposter at various points in my career and I know that many of my colleagues have had similar experiences, but it’s not something that people tend to talk about, due to the very fear of being ‘found out".
As of late, it has been widely discussed in the public domain with a number of high-profile individuals acknowledging their struggles with Imposter Syndrome during May’s Mental Health Awareness Month campaigns. One individual who has spoken out about her battles with Imposter Syndrome is Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, founder of Leanin.org and author of a best-selling book of the same title.
In her book, Lean In, Sandberg shares that when she was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honour society at Harvard, a forum renowned for its prestigious history and academic selectivity, she felt a persistent feeling of self-doubt, like she didn’t deserve to be there. She wrote in her book: “Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself, or even excelled, I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up.” Commenting on her current role at Facebook, Sandberg shared, “There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am”.
As Sandberg highlights, we can often fall into what’s called an “Imposter Cycle” where our own actions continually feed our sense of being an imposter. Our anxiety and self-doubt about our own capabilities can lead us to over-prepare, meaning that we discount any subsequent successes. This then fuels the idea that someone might discover the “truth” surrounding our lack of ability, reinstating all senses of doubt and insecurity. Sometimes we doubt ourselves so much that we avoid the task altogether, of course confirming our original idea that we weren't up to the task, and again feeding the cycle. One way or another, we often short-circuit our chances of disproving our imposter-based fears.
An environment that can foster Imposter Syndrome is the workplace, due to the variety of psychologically challenging situations we deal with on a day-to-day basis. Some typical examples where employees could feel an element of Imposter Syndrome in the workplace are:
Although the scenarios above may seem like business-as-usual activities for some of us, many people will relate to situations where Imposter Syndrome has raised its head.
So, how do we create a culture where employees feel safe enough to recognise and challenge their feelings or insecurity? Hannah Millard, Global Culture and Inclusion Partner, gives us an insight into life at Just Eat and how they are promoting positive conversations around Imposter Syndrome and psychological safety in the workplace.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without the awesome people that make Just Eat what it is; and supporting our people to bring their full selves to work, whatever that may be, is essential to our success. It’s important to us that psychological safety is at the forefront of our wellbeing framework to give our people the chance to flourish and enable them to make mental fitness a priority.
Each of our global employees can access the Unmind platform, giving them the opportunity to proactively work on their mental wellbeing when it suits them. For immediate support we also offer a global employee assistance programme (EAP). In the UK we also work with Sanctus to bring mental health coaches into the office too and have 60 mental health first aiders who have an in-depth understanding of mental health and the practical skills needed to spot triggers and warning signs.”
At Unmind, we’re aware of the intense pressures that some people face in the workplace and we understand the relationship between Imposter Syndrome and mental health. On top of the ongoing anxiety of being “found out”, people with Imposter Syndrome often feel depressed or put themselves at risk of burning out. To support our clients on this journey, we can now announce the release of the Unmind series ‘Imposter Syndrome’, created in collaboration with clinical psychologist, Dr Kate Daley. The series, which was released on the platform on Thursday 13th June, is designed to support all Unmind users in their journey to better mental health.
“When you’re not feeling at the peak of your mental fitness, the feeling of being an imposter can be enhanced and magnified. We can often be too caught up in our own thoughts and feelings which only exacerbates the imposter cycle. Finding ways to support our people to proactively managing their mental wellbeing is really important to us, and the Unmind platform is one way to do that...”
The next series on the Unmind agenda is Overcoming Burnout, a topic that was thrust into the spotlight, after the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that it will be reclassified as a recognisable syndrome. Just like Imposter Syndrome, many people in the workplace can relate to the symptoms of burnout. We are delighted to be working with organisations that place mental health and at the heart of their business and are committed to helping their employees on their journey to better mental health.
If you want any further information on Unmind, Just Eat and how we work with organisations to create happier, healthier working ecosystems get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.