“We don’t have any budget to cover fixing Imposter Syndrome!” But putting the burden onto the Learning & Development Team’s financial shoulders is costing businesses billions, in terms of people, performance, productivity and profit.
Imposter Syndrome – the fear of being ‘found out as a fraud’, despite being outwardly confident and successful, is a silent epidemic in the business world.
The 2019 Imposter Syndrome Research Study found that 52% of female respondents and 49% of male respondents have struggled with it ‘daily’ or ‘regularly’, in the past year, alone. Add if we include those who said it sometimes affects their performance and mental health, only 11% of respondents were immune to it. The other 89% found it was affecting their work and mental health, and they were trying to hide it.
In the research, respondents reported that, in the past year, Imposter Syndrome had caused them to:
- Not speak up when they knew they had the answer or a great idea (56%)
- Not complete important projects (31%)
- Feel worried and anxious to a level that affected their performance (72%)
And the research also found that it is one of three core drivers in the gender pay gap. For example, female respondents reported that in the past year they had (as a result of Imposter Syndrome):
- Not taken credit for their success, writing it off as ‘fluke’ or a ‘team effort’ (50%)
- Not asked for a pay rise they knew they deserved (37%)
- Not put themselves forward for a promotion or award they knew they deserved (35%)
The effects of these behaviours are widespread. For example:
- Companies can miss out on opportunities to lead their market, as people don’t speak up with brilliant ideas.
- The stress related impact of Imposter Syndrome can turn a rising star into a micro-managing bully-boss, turning a formerly thriving team toxic and causing star performers to leave.
- And the research found that high-performing women were more likely to apply for a senior level promotion externally, than to risk publicly ‘failing’ at an internal promotion. They were also more likely to leave a company they otherwise loved, to get a pay rise, than to ask internally. This means companies are losing their high-performing women in ways that are completely preventable.
Despite all of this, I regularly hear decision-makers in businesses say that there is ‘no budget’ to implement genuine solutions, so “surely a one-hour keynote, funded by the Women’s Network, will do?”
One of the challenges is that the very nature of Imposter Syndrome means that people have to be experts at hiding it. That’s why I often hear from managers at multinationals that it’s ‘not a problem’ in their company. People rarely go to HR to ask for help with Imposter Syndrome, due to the taboo that surrounds it.
Imposter Syndrome is someone’s best-kept secret, until they can’t hide it any more, by which point so much damage has been done.
With training budgets being squeezed, these managers are right – there are near-zero funds to fix a problem that can be costing an individual business millions.
But when we look at actually fixing the problem (because you can sort Imposter Syndrome), the piggy bank is empty.
Crazily, fixing it doesn’t cost a fortune.
- A one-day awareness training for twelve line managers and key HR team members comes in at under £5k. That teaches all of them how to spot Imposter Syndrome, even if someone is hiding it, how to support them on a ‘first aid’ basis, so it doesn’t cause them to self-sabotage, and how to give feedback so that it doesn’t make Imposter Syndrome worse, but actually builds confidence.
- 1:1 mentoring for a senior leader for three months costs less than one twentieth of the cost of replacing them, if they were to leave as a result of Imposter Syndrome (which happens far too often).
- And training ten of your own in-house coaches to become certified Imposter Syndrome Mentors costs much less than losing one, single client project, in most companies – something that Imposter Syndrome can trigger.
We’re looking at this the wrong way.
For a problem this widespread, this needs to be funded from strategic business pots, not put on the heads of the training budget team, which is meant to deal with ad hoc development needs, not something this endemic and painful.
By insisting on this work coming out of the training budget, and therefore refusing to do it, businesses are risking losing their competitive advantage, along with their best team members, let alone struggling to close the gender pay gap.
The 2020 Deloitte study into mental health found that the return on investment on preventative mental health measures was five-fold, and that was only looking at reducing absenteeism and staff turnover. The benefits of working proactively to help staff to ditch Imposter Syndrome are even greater.
When we look at it this way, surely the most sensible response is not ‘we can’t afford to invest in this’, but ‘how could we afford not to?’
If your company is ready to make the commitment to take the lead on supporting staff to spot and ditch Imposter Syndrome, let’s book a call and talk about how I can help.