Does working from home increase or reduce your risk of imposter syndrome?

Frustrated Black businesswoman using laptop
A recent survey found 90% of women in the UK suffer from imposter syndrome. Photo: Getty

Thanks to the pandemic, working from home is now the norm. Instead of heading to work on cramped trains and crawling along in traffic, we’re commuting from our bedrooms to our kitchens.

For some people, working from home is a welcome change. For others, though, the transition to remote working has been a challenge. Our routines have been upended, it’s hard to switch off and the days seem to blur into one, long Zoom call.

It’s normal for this kind of sudden transformation to impact the way we feel about work. In particular, it may lead to feelings of inadequacy — otherwise known as imposter syndrome — as we grapple with this new way of life.

Imposter syndrome, the fear of being outed as a fraud at any minute despite overwhelming evidence saying otherwise, is a common problem. Although your colleagues may consider you to be successful, you may live with a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.

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One recent survey found 90% of women in the UK suffer from this, yet only 25% are actually aware of it. Last year, Totaljobs discovered that seven in 10 UK workers have experienced ‘imposter’ feelings that can sabotage our careers and harm our mental health.

However, a new survey of 2,000 people taken during the pandemic reveals something unusual. It suggests a 57% decrease in rates of “imposter feelings” among workers compared with 2019, meaning three in 10 UK workers say they are now experiencing imposter syndrome. It’s a significant drop, despite the stress and uncertainty caused by COVID-19. But why?

According to TotalJobs, who carried out the new survey, the general anxiety triggered by the pandemic may mean we have less time to worry about what other people think of our abilities.

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It’s also possible that the very real threat to our health and livelihoods has distracted us from feelings of imposter syndrome, or that working from home has given people more autonomy. While remote working poses certain challenges, particularly during a lockdown, people may feel more comfortable working in their own homes too.

“It’s fascinating to see how the COVID-19 pandemic is having such a marked impact across all aspects of our lives and even in how we see ourselves,” says Dr Terri Simpkin, a visiting fellow at the University of Nottingham.

“To see such a rapid decrease in the number of workers who say they’re experiencing imposter phenomenon should be cause for optimism. This is very likely linked to the nationwide shift towards remote working practices.”

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However, the survey also shows there are significant numbers of people in the UK who are experiencing imposter phenomenon and either precarious employment or no employment at all.

Seven in 10 of those workers who have found themselves furloughed, laid off or made redundant continue to experience imposter syndrome. According to the survey, 72% of those still in work experiencing these feelings fear they haven’t been productive or achieved enough during lockdown, with 40% working harder because of anxiety about the quality of their work.

“Although a topic that isn’t discussed enough, the impact imposter syndrome continues to have on our working lives is all too clear,” Jon Wilson, CEO of Totaljobs, said in a statement.

“The first thing for those who are experiencing imposter syndrome is to recognise they are not alone. It can be all too easy to forget that every so often we need to praise and thank others for their efforts,” he added.

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“Clear job descriptions, specific feedback, and a clear set of performance criteria act as objective, evidence-based tools, which workers have told us have helped them to feel less like a ‘fake’ at work and trust that they’re doing a good job.”

And remember, people who don’t feel like imposters aren’t any more capable than those who do. Even the most high achieving people can feel like they don’t know what they are doing sometimes, which can be a comforting thought.

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