Feeling fake? New interesting research on the “Imposter syndrome”

Do you ever feel that your fake, or that any minute now someone will tap your shoulder and will say: we know you’re not really smart or clever,… Well, good news. You’re not alone.  This blogpost  learns you a  lot about this ‘imposter syndrome’, e.g. how the feeling can develop:

“It seems to affect individuals the most who are at beginning of their careers, starting a new project, or embarking on something new in their lives. It’s also highly prevalent in the medical and technological sciences and highly competitive environments.

This leads people to feel as if they are undeserving of their success, or that their success is the result of some external or superficial source. It’s attributed to anything but their actual ability. It can also fueled by a feeling of not truly belonging to a group.’”

A new study further examines this syndrome. Vergauwe et al. examined whether workplace social support can buffer the potential harmful effects of impostor tendencies.

Our results indicated that, to a certain extent, social support can indeed act as a buffering variable in these relationships. We specifically found that, when social support is high, the negative relationships between impostor tendencies and satisfaction and OCB disappear. This suggests that perceptions of strong workplace social support could be the key to temper some of the negative effects of impostorism.

Although this study gives further evidence for the potentially dysfunctional nature of this fascinating trait configuration in a work context, it also notes that it can have some consequences that can be regarded by some as more positive (although this is open to discussion if they are actually good):

We found that high IP tendencies are associated with higher continuance commitment, regardless of the level of social support at work. Impostors’ feeling that they are not able to find a similar job when leaving their current job might be so strong that no buffering effect of social support occurs.

Abstract of the study:

The impostor phenomenon (IP) refers to the intense feelings of intellectual fraudulence, often experienced by high-achieving individuals. The purpose of this study is threefold: (1) examine the trait-relatedness of the IP; (2) investigate the potential impact of impostor tendencies on relevant work attitudes (i.e., job satisfaction and organizational commitment) and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB); and (3) explore whether workplace social support can buffer the potential harmful effects of impostor tendencies.

Design/methodology/approach Belgian employees (N = 201) from three different sectors participated in a crosssectional survey study. Findings Hierarchical regressions revealed that Big Five personality traits, core self-evaluations, and maladaptive perfectionism explain large proportions of the variance in impostor tendencies (DR2 = .59). A relative weight analysis indicated self-efficacy as the most important predictor, followed by maladaptive perfectionism and Neuroticism. Further, results showed that employees with stronger impostor tendencies indicate lower levels of job satisfaction and OCB, and higher levels of continuance commitment. However, workplace social support buffered the negative effects of impostor tendencies on job satisfaction and OCB.

Implications Employees hampered by impostor tendencies could benefit from coaching programs that focus on the enhancement of self-efficacy and the alleviation of maladaptive perfectionistic concerns. Impostor tendencies have an impact on career attitudes and organizational behavior. Extra attention could be devoted to the assessment of this specific trait constellation in selection or development contexts. Interventions designed to increase social support are particularly relevant in this regard.

Originality/value Despite its relevance for contemporary work settings, the IP has barely been investigated in adult working samples.


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Filed under At work, Research

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