Josa says that while younger workers may be more vocal about their struggles, older generations are also suffering. One of the main triggers she identified for impostor syndrome is menopause for women or for men promoted to senior positions. Working mothers, meanwhile, are a high-risk group for IE and burnout, she adds.
There is also a body of research suggesting that people from minorities may be more severely affected. Dr. Kelly Cawcutt of the University of Nebraska Medical Center says impostor syndrome has long been thought to be a factor in high burnout rates among medical workers. But his research suggests that “embedded biases and a lack of diversity” in the profession may mean that underrepresented groups and ethnic minorities are particularly affected. Black doctors, for example, are known to face a higher risk of burnout, in part due to the stress of discrimination.
“If we’re told we’re not good enough, not smart enough, or that we don’t belong — or feel that way through microaggressions — those extrinsic biases can be internalized,” she says, fueling the both imposterism and in the longer term, Burnout.
“Although there are many efforts to address this issue now, these biases still exist,” Cawcutt says, creating what his research calls a “substantial negative cycle” for the individual. This, she says, shows the importance of treating IS and burnout – and indeed ingrained biases – not as siled issues, but as connected phenomena that, if they are to be addressed, must be addressed. treated together.
Josa says that when it comes to the individual, the starting point is to tackle impostor syndrome by rewiring the brain’s stress response, “so that you don’t get this unconscious fight reaction, leakage, blockage”. But to address the burnout problem, she says companies need to do more to tackle cultures where “everything has become an emergency”, and where people feel pressured to outperform and grit their teeth in the face of adversity rather than being honest about their well-being.
Yousef and Raimondi agree that it’s essential that workers are encouraged to set cognitive boundaries around their work so they have time to mentally reset after stressful times, breaking those cycles of stress. Young workers, Yousef says, need help engaging with mentors at work so they learn to fit in, stopping those feelings of impostor early on. “Prevention should be key here,” she says. “I would love it if we educated our kids from high school on what happens when you work too much.”
But for people like Fiona, solving the problem is easier said than done. Her doctor has advised her to take time off work, but fears it will disappoint her team or only prove to herself and others that “I’ve been promoted above my grade”.
Instead, she finds herself struggling every day to “wade through the molasses of work”, envying people who seem to be doing well. “Wouldn’t it be a nice feeling,” she said, “to know that you don’t worry about getting to work every day?”