National Study: 62% of UK adults experiencing ‘imposter syndrome’ at work

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According to a national study* of 3,000 UK adults conducted by Access Commercial Finance, 62% of us have experienced imposter syndrome at work in the past 12 months.

Younger people are most likely to experience the problem. 86% of adults aged 18-34 say they’ve experienced imposter syndrome in the past 12 months. People aged 45-54 were the least likely to experience it. 

What is imposter syndrome?

According to one definition, imposter syndrome is “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”

According to our study, our own self-doubt was the leading cause of imposter syndrome, followed by criticism, having to ask for help and comparing ourselves unfavourably to high achieving colleagues. 

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, a psychologist and expert on organisational and workplace psychology believes imposter syndrome can have a negative impact on our careers and on the fortunes of the businesses we work for.

Imposter syndrome can inhibit productivity and seriously limit an individual’s career progression. Self-doubt can also hold a highly qualified person back from taking the chances that propel them forward.

Imposter syndrome causes

Reason for experiencing imposter syndrome Percentage of people who’ve experienced this
My own self doubt 38.17%
Receiving criticism 23.37%
Having to ask for help 20.26%
Comparing myself to high achieving colleagues 16.04%
Not clearly understanding what’s expected of me 15.47%
Not recognising or understanding industry language, such as technical terms or acronyms 13.84%


Imposter syndrome by industry 

Imposter syndrome was more common in certain industries. Competitive industries such as creative arts, law, media and healthcare, appear to have a higher percentage of individuals who’ve experienced imposter syndrome.

Industry Percentage of workers who’ve experienced imposter syndrome in the past 12 months
Creative arts and design 86.96%
Environment and agriculture 78.57%
Information research and analysis 78.57%
Law 74.36%
Media and internet 72.73%
Healthcare 70.73%
Publishing and journalism 70.00%
Public services and administration 68.42%
Information technology 68.37%
Recruitment and HR 68.00%
Social care 66.00%
Energy and utilities 64.10%
Sales 62.96%
Marketing, advertising and PR 62.50%
Hospitality and events management 62.30%
Teaching and education 61.35%
Accountancy, banking and finance 59.71%
Business, consulting and management 59.46%
Charity and voluntary work 58.46%
Law enforcement and security 57.14%
Retail 57.00%
Insurance and pensions 55.17%
Engineering and manufacturing 55.07%
Property and construction 53.57%
Leisure, sport and tourism 44.83%


Gender differences

Imposter syndrome doesn’t affect men and women equally. Women are more likely to experience imposter syndrome. Two thirds of women (66%) and just over half of men (56%) experienced imposter syndrome in the last 12 months.

Matt Haycox, an advisor with Access Commercial Finance, who commissioned the study to learn more about the role self-confidence plays in business, says on the apparent gender difference:

It’s not just women in employment who appear to be experiencing unfounded self-doubt. We’ve seen similar trends in our own lending data. 

“We approve more loans per application to women, but women simply apply for business funding less often and ask for less when they do. It’s a concern that this appears to be playing out at workplaces across the UK too.” 

Professor Cooper has this advice for people dealing with unfounded feelings of self doubt and inadequacy.

It is possible for people prone to imposter syndrome to lessen the effect it has on their daily working lives.

By regularly reminding yourself of your achievements and recent ‘wins’ you can put your feelings of self-doubt into context. Keeping a list of tangible, demonstrable achievements on a phone or written down is very helpful.

People experiencing imposter syndrome may also be prone to over-functioning, striving for perfection to ‘prove’ themselves over and over. This can be counterproductive and make the problem worse. 

Seeking guidance from managers on expectations can help here. When expectations are vague, it’s tempting to aim for perfection to make sure something is good enough in the absence of a clearly defined standard. When expectations are clear, we can aim to meet them without doubting whether it’s enough.

It also helps to talk to colleagues about it. An outside perspective is often all it takes to remind you of why you deserve to feel confident at work.

**OnePoll surveyed 3,000 UK adults on behalf of Access Commercial Finance, between 13/06/2018 and 15/06/2018. OnePoll are members of the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research and employ members of the Marketing Research Society.