5 Questions to Support Hybrid Workforces — Michael Mauro
Imposter syndrome has levelled up. And leaders are struggling.
Hybrid offices are breeding grounds for imposter syndrome. All too often, leaders have not been equipped with the right skills and emotional intelligence to manage different experiences, emotions, skillsets, and values, all trying to work together, but now under countless roofs.
If you’re not already familiar with imposter syndrome, it’s the persistent inability to believe that your own success is deserved or has been achieved legitimately because of your own efforts or skills. It’s more than fear of failure. It arises when we don’t feel capable. Have you ever been in a room of hugely talented people and felt like the one who shouldn’t be there? It’s that.
The term was coined by two psychologists, Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, to define the experience of not being able to internalise success. At the time, it was thought to only occur in high-achieving women, however recent research shows that people of all kinds and all walks of life experience it.
It is not the fault of employees — it spreads through hybrid workforces when things are evolving so fast, hurdles are consistently appearing, and businesses are not training and coaching their people so that they feel confident in their capabilities, knowledge, and roles.
The larger the organisation, the slipperier the slope.
Kelifern Pomeranz, PsyD, CST, a California-based clinical psychologist who used to work for Stanford’s Mental Health Clinic for students, says 70 to 82% of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their career.
However, it gets much worse in new and high-stress situations — as we adjust to remote or hybrid working, for example. Virtual work is isolating, and isolation breeds anxiety. Marie Barnes, PhD, associate teaching professor at Florida International University specializing in industrial organizational psychology, fully believes that the sudden and ambiguous transition into full-time working from home has caused more self-doubt and insecurity over belonging.
There are some important questions that every business needs to ask itself. The sustainability of your workforce depends on them…
1. What learning and development resources can we put in place to support different skillsets and different needs?
Build a mentoring and coaching culture . Are you offering (and communicating about) employee wellbeing resources such as mental health days, telehealth services and employee assistance programs? Consider opportunities for cross-generation mentoring and sharing knowledge in real-time — and relay the importance of this to your leaders. Investing in learning is the way to break down imposter syndrome — do you need help in training leaders to adopt this mindset?
Make sure you are asking employees if there’s anything they feel unsure about or would specifically like to learn, and think about how you can create personalised training and leadership development plans. Learning new skills at work could itself be a new experience for a lot of older employees, so think about how you can train your leaders to support them each step of the way.
2. How can we encourage collaboration and understanding?
Ask yourself how you can encourage innovation and experimentation to foster a stronger sense of teamwork and connection across your hybrid workforce. Sit down and make time for brainstorming — leaders who encourage experimentation and creativity among their teams will help to bring out the best in them. It could be as simple as a group problem-solving project or a team-based competition to discover innovative solutions to pain points.
Developing soft skills is crucial to us understanding each other, and collaborative and playful experimentation helps to create a psychologically safe place to do that. Not only will leaders grow to better understand challenges that their teams are facing each day, but being open about insecurities (and finding that these are shared with others around them) will help employees to find the courage to self-reflect, analyse their imposter syndrome, and start to consider steps forward. Plus, the organisation will benefit from improved processes and higher levels of employee engagement.
3. How can we increase our understanding of where each person is coming from?
Are you making it clear to employees that not feeling okay is okay? Your leaders must be trained to support them, and it’s important for employees to know that, so they feel safer. Every organisation needs to make fear of failure safe, to discourage employees from internalising their insecurities and gaps in knowledge. It’s okay to need help with that , too.
Sit down to think about how you can gather essential feedback, opinions, emotions, and aspirations of your hybrid employees. Are your leaders making a priority of being open and transparent with employees, to foster psychological safety and nurture trust? Is demonstrating empathy and breaking down the stigma around mental health (which is affecting us all, post-Covid) a part of your leadership development strategy?
4. How can we use our understanding of each employee to turn problems and gaps into opportunities?
Factor their insight and feedback into your leadership development strategy, so your leaders can better serve your hybrid workforce. Use new understanding to strengthen coaching cultures and communities. Use it to bridge gaps in communication and better understand how to develop soft skills.
For example, start looking at the skills gap as a skills opportunity — it’s a chance tobecome the new ‘University’ for employees, identify high potential talent, and nurture a culture with learning and growth at the heart of it.
5. How can we improve processes and working models to cater to multiple employee audiences?
Think about how to increase flexibility to cater for different needs and how to prepare your leaders for changing employee sentiments. How can leaders involve employees in decision-making and the bigger vision? How can you springboard off collective insecurities and lacks in capability to identify a clearer direction in which to grow as an organisation?
Conclusion: How Leaders Can Support Their Hybrid Workforces & Defeat Imposter Syndrome
People are struggling. Impostor syndrome is completely normal in stressful situations, but it’s every organisation’s responsibility to make efforts to understand how their employees feel, and how that impacts how well they do their jobs. It’s their responsibility to make hybrid workers feel safe, supported and valued.
We have so many more opportunities now and I think that’s why it feels so hard to make the right choice.
Every business’s focus for 2022 onwards should be on supporting people to overcome their choice paralysis, so they can make the right choices. Hybrid working models mean that worker wellbeing is no longer just about the individual employee — it’s about the sustainability of your entire workforces.
The differences in knowledge and capability highlight the need for learning to be constant, tailored, and personalised — and the need for leaders to be trained in emotional intelligence to help people struggling with imposter syndrome.
It’s also every organisation’s responsibility to develop its leaders through clear leadership development plans . It’s their responsibility to create a diverse culture of learning and mentorship, to attract the best talent and fill skills gaps — for the sake of their bottom line and all the hybrid employees driving it.