The Imposter Phenomenon Impact On Business And Careers

The imposter phenomenon, also known as imposter syndrome, causes people to feel as though they are inadequate or undeserving of their success despite the fact that they possess the proper training, experience and talents for their achievements. While imposter syndrome can be a detriment to achievement, for some, it can push them to achieve more, even though they live with the anxiety of eventually being labeled as a fraud.

Risk Factors for Imposter Phenomenon

Anyone can suffer from anxiety related to imposter phenomenon. According to initial studies, up to 70 percent of all individuals may experience symptoms. Other reports reflect that, in more severe cases, about 30 percent of the population has full-fledged imposter syndrome.

While it is prevalent in many communities, imposter syndrome is not a recognized psychological illness. It is, however, recognized by professionals as a very real and treatable condition.

Researchers find that people in particular academic and business fields are at a higher risk of developing imposter phenomena than the general population. Those at high risk include:

  • Entrepreneurs are in the high-risk category, often due to more generalized skill levels. They sometimes believe that no one else would hire them. They also fear the prospect of business failure.
  • High-level professionals, especially women, often assume they rose to the top through the help of others or with luck. While this may be true, in part, imposters also repudiate any personal recognition for advancements. They believe they must have an answer for every issue; not knowing everything makes them a “fraud.”
  • Professors and other academics commonly report suffering from imposter phenomenon. At every level, teachers, professors and academic leaders deal with overwhelming anxieties and self-doubt.
  • Students are often under a lot of pressure to achieve. Gifted students, in particular, are at higest risk. As they grow, failure becomes a very real fear. Some develop an overt perfectionism, which also prohibits them from challenging themselves and taking risks.
  • Those who achieve success quickly often hold strong beliefs that their success is all about luck and timing. Individuals may be very niche-oriented and fear that they’ll be “found out” if challenged outside their very narrow zone.

Imposter Phenomenon: Business Effects

Because some of the most successful people and highest achievers in both schools and corporations are the most likely people to develop imposter syndrome, the impact of this condition is often detrimental in the workplace. For those living with imposter phenomena, business and academic impacts can cause negative behaviors, including:

  • avoidance
  • over-preparation
  • procrastination.

Over time, mounting stress and anxiety related to imposter phenomenon can lead to career failure. Perpetual feelings of inadequacy can reduce productivity and effectiveness in any field.

For those in a school or training environment, imposter syndrome can be a detriment to learning, concentrating and participating in the classroom. In addition, avoidance techniques will keep many from seeking higher-paying jobs.

Imposter phenomenon can have different effects for people within different types of careers. Here are some of the different ways in which imposter syndrome can affect people in particular business environments:

  • In academia, gifted individuals will avoid writing grants or pursuing further education. This also leads to reluctance to compete against peers due to unfounded feelings of inadequacy.
  • In the business world, imposters often resort to jobs with few challenges and expectations. These may be exceptionally gifted individuals who cannot face the emotional challenges of success.
  • Those in the public eye may become reclusive. Under a barrage of questions or challenges, they feel they’ll be exposed. Public figures with imposter syndrome have a hard time accepting any type of criticism, even when it is constructive or positive.

The pressure to succeed in society heavily contributes to the emergence of imposter syndrome. Those who are discovering that there is hope for imposter phenomenon are finding help in a number of ways to deal with this condition, including going to therapy and attending support groups with fellow sufferers.