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Imposter syndrome has a much bigger impact on mental health than we first thought

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Hollie Richardson
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Imposter syndrome research

New research shows that women are experiencing negative feelings at home with their families, as a direct result of imposter syndrome in the office. 

Imposter syndrome is, sadly, a way of life for many working women. 

Last year, a study found that two thirds of women had experienced imposter syndrome over the previous 12 months. Men, on the other hand, were 18% less likely to experience self-doubt than their female counterparts. Even Michelle Obama is part of the 70% of women who have experienced imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.

New research now shows how we urgently need to tackle this issue, after suggesting that imposter syndrome at work also has a negative impact on our family lives at home.

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To recap: “impostor syndrome” was coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. The condition is defined as a “psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments… despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.”

Lisa Sublett, assistant professor of industrial-organisational psychology at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, wanted to expand current research about imposter phenomenon (another term associated with “syndrome”) and look at how it is related to family and home satisfaction.

She conducted the research with her colleagues Lisa Penney, associate professor with the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, and Holly Hutchins, professor at the University of Houston.

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They found that employees experiencing imposter phenomenon are more likely to have conflict with work and family roles because they are emotionally exhausted, and they tend to be less satisfied with family life because of it.

They were surprised that employees did not seem have lower job satisfaction because of work-family conflict, although emotional exhaustion did contribute to less satisfaction at work.

“The most important point of our study is showing employees who experience persistent thoughts of feeling like a fake are not only experiencing detrimental effects at work but also at home,” Sublett said. “These accomplished employees are emotionally drained and struggle maintaining family and work demands. Our study also adds legitimacy to discussing imposter phenomenon as an important talent development issue, especially for high-potential employees.”

Imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome research shows how it affects women at home.

The research went on to advise employers to recognise the signs of imposter syndrome to help mitigate the symptoms. It recommended that they offer emotional support to individuals, provide individual coaching on perfectionism and give frequent performance feedback.

For the study, 463 employees - over 18 years old who worked at least 20 hours per week and had been in the same job for at least six months  - were surveyed in America. The researchers believe that the findings of this study lend themselves to exploring a number of other avenues when it comes to the long-term impact of imposter phenomenon on home and family life.

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