The Link Between Working in a Toxic Environment & Impostor Syndrome


We wrote about impostor syndrome earlier this month, and how women more than ever before are experiencing the same phenomenon in the workplace. Research on a mixed gender group suggests that a huge 75% of employees will experience an irrational fear of being a phony in their jobs at some point in their careers.

So, it may not just be prevalent in women. Furthermore, is this a symptom of hereditary mental health issues or a pattern of negative stimuli at work? Even though it’s typically something that affects people on a personal level, the relationship between toxic environments and well-being is well established.

Psychology Today’s character diagnosis for a list of typical symptoms of impostor syndrome:

  • An irrational fear of failure.
  • Fear of succeeding.
  • Constantly striving for perfection.
  • An inability to accept praise and achievement.
  • A genuine belief of being discovered for being a fraud at some point in their roles.

Is it Brought on by Nature or Nurture?

Well, it could be a bit of both: it seems that the impostor phenomenon breeds from a mix of both genuine personal doubt over work abilities and the collective experience of working in a toxic work culture.

Toxic workplaces can be characterised as being an environment that:

  • Diminishes humility and empathy, as well as promoting competition.
  • Has an overwhelming focus on profit and minimising resources.
  • Has limited understanding of inclusion initiatives.
  • One with poor performance measures or management.
  • Promote unfair criticism or disciplinary measures that stifle creative thinking.
  • Threats of any kind to your position, in a joking or serious manner.

All these actions can indirectly reduce the fundamental rewards of work, such as having a creative outlet or a place for complete freedom of expression. Toxic workplaces force their employees to constantly jump through hoops in order to remain in the good books or even on the payroll. In this kind of toxicity, intellectual honesty, unconventional, forward thinking and self-care, are deterred.

Addressing these poor work cultures; processes and poor organisational structures could create a more hostile environment for impostor syndrome. Healthy office environments lead to a more satisfied team which leads to better teamwork; a more loyal workforce; and consequently, a more positive and productive team.

Need help with workplace management in your office? Contact us for expert recruitment systems and packages that can take the pressure off any workplace situation.