Seventy percent of Americans may feel the deeply rooted self-doubt first described as “Imposter Syndrome” by sociologists studying the entry of women into the workplace.
Despite high achievements, many women interviewed by researchers in the 1970s reported a sense of “phoniness” about their new place in society.
“The term ‘imposter phenomenon’ is used to designate an internal experience of intellectual phonies, which appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high-achieving women,” sociologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes wrote in The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention. “Certain early family dynamics and later introjection of societal sex-role stereotyping appear to contribute significantly to the development of the imposter phenomenon.”
Now, researchers say the experience is much more common among men, too, who tend to underreport feelings of inadequacy and weakness — even to non-assuming sociologists gathering data in the aggregate.
People suffering such doubt tend to apply unusually high standards to themselves while assuming others achieve the same standards with less effort, beneficiaries of superior intelligence and talent. More recently, the phenomenon has described African-Americans and other racial minority members insecure about perceptions following a generation of Affirmative Action. But nowhere is the experience more common today than among computer programmers whose work is continuously judged and revised by others. The perception not only causes psychological pain but changes the way people set and attain goals, leaving a lasting effect throughout a lifetime.
Men and women alike are left wondering: “Am I man enough for the job?” So they expend greater time and effort attempting to improve themselves, which might not be so bad — unless you’re a computer programmer. As described in a popular online forum, the “Real Programmer” volunteers to work 60 to 80 hours per week with no extra pay, a code-writing animal subsisting on pizza and energy drinks long into the night. Gone from this corporate culture is the idea people are working hard for value. In an Orwellian sense, they do it for the fun. It is their raison d’être.
Yet, managers of industrial occupations have long understood the cost of overworking employees to a company’s bottom line, according to a study from the nonprofit Families and Work Institute. A quarter of U.S. workers spend more than 50 hours per week on the job, with 55 percent of workers across the country forgoing earned vacation time, too. Although many workers say overwork causes a greater rate of on-the-job errors, scientists say harm to productivity comes on a more collective level as employees experience greater physical and emotional stress, leading to costly turnover as well as absenteeism and increased health coverage costs.
"This study shows that the consequences of overwork for workplace safety, job performance and staff retention are clear and direct," said Carlton Yearwood, director of diversity and work-life quality at PricewaterhouseCoopers, which supported the study.
To improve work-related health concerns including "Imposter Syndrome," experts say managers might make such changes as increasing worker agency and flexibility and by redesigning workflow to minimize interruptions and eliminate unnecessary redundancies. But the question remains, is Corporate America manager enough for that?