Imposter Phenomenon: 7 in 10 UK workers experiencing irrational fear of being exposed as frauds

  • 7 in 10 of all UK workers have experienced Imposter Phenomenon during their career
  • Imposter Phenomenon sees a further 7 in 10 individuals willing let colleagues take credit for their own work
  • 4 in 10 UK workers are suffering ongoing anxiety about being unable to do their job
  • Women 10% more likely to experience imposter behaviours than male colleagues
  • Over two-thirds of senior managers experiencing imposter phenomenon themselves, rising to over three quarters (77%) amongst junior managers
  • Working with Totaljobs, researchers Dr Terri Simpkin and Kate Atkin MSc, from Anglia Ruskin University set out 5 ways to beat Imposter Phenomenon
  • Full report available at

3rd June 2019 – London, UK A new report investigating ‘Imposter Phenomenon’ published today by leading jobs board Totaljobs, in collaboration with Dr Terri Simpkin and Kate Atkin MSc, has set out to redefine the current conversation on imposter behaviours in the workplace.

The report, the first of its kind to be carried out in the UK, can reveal that across the country, as many as 7 in 10 (70%) of all UK workers – over 22 million people [1] – have experienced ‘Imposter Phenomenon’ at least once during their working lives.

Syndrome imposter

Mistakenly referred to as ‘Imposter Syndrome’, Imposter Phenomenon is a dual fear of both failure and success. Those who are experiencing it first-hand share an irritational fear being ‘found out’ and exposed as frauds by their colleagues, often in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Distinct from self-doubt or experiencing a lack of self-confidence, both of which often fade as we gain experience, ‘Imposters’ struggle to recognise their own capabilities, skills and successes. Often, they will find any means to deflect praise onto others in the belief that any success of their own can only be attributed to either fluke or luck.

Passing on praise

In most cases (7 in 10), those experiencing Imposter Phenomenon are willing to let others take the credit for their work rather than accept praise themselves.

Living with this constant fear of being discovered can end up being a massive drain on an individual’s personal and professional confidence. In many cases it can spark a self-fulfilling prophecy, affecting an individual’s job performance and further undermining any remaining sense of self-confidence.

Imposing distances

So, are there any conditions where Imposter Phenomenon is more likely to occur? Today’s figures illustrate that individuals who perceive themselves to be part of a minority within the workplace are the most susceptible to experience imposter feelings.

Women, who in the UK workforce still find themselves under-represented at senior levels across several industries [2] are, according to today’s figures, 10% more likely to experience Imposter Phenomenon when compared with their male counterparts.

Both gay and bisexual workers experience a similar gap with straight colleagues – bisexual workers, in particular, are 9% more likely to question their ability in the workplace.

Across generations too, the fear of being discovered as a fraud divides us. Those of the Baby Boom generation (55 to 75 years old) are in the fortunate position of being 11% less likely than millennials to question their professional suitability.

Fakes and Ladders

Imposter Phenomenon also flourishes as we begin to scale the career ladder. As new managers set out to prove themselves, they also experience greater scrutiny. 7 in 10 of those surveyed in a junior management role have acknowledged they have felt like imposters.

Sadly, these symptoms don’t disappear as employees continue to gain professional experience, a whopping 68% of senior managers also admitting to experiencing the symptoms associated with Imposter Phenomenon.

Great Expectations

Stress, burnout, anxiety and depression, these are just a few of the ways that Imposter Phenomenon can disrupt our professional lives. More deceptive than self-sabotage, imposters don’t see themselves as deserving or capable of success in the first place.

Coupled with an ongoing fear of being found out, these individuals often tend to set exaggerated expectations for themselves, that they can only fail to meet.

Over 6 in 10 (63%) of respondents with Imposter symptoms told us that they principally measure success by their own unrealistic set of standards.

When these inevitable setbacks do occur, it only serves to underline a perceived imposter status, starting the whole toxic cycle all over again.

Working with Totaljobs, Dr Terri Simpkin, consultant and inclusion researcher, and Kate Atkin MSc, both from Anglia Ruskin University, have set out 5 ways to beat Imposter Phenomenon.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Dr Terri Simpkin said:

‘‘Today’s report shows that there are huge numbers of people in the UK who believe themselves to be simply not good enough for their job, despite being clearly and evidently capable.

Every day, up and down the country, millions of people are batting away praise, diminishing their own achievements and setting increasingly unrealistic standards for themselves.

Women, in particular, may experience the “double whammy” of being both disadvantaged in the workplace and held back by their own involuntary sense of not being good enough. Take all these factors together and Imposter Phenomenon is seriously damaging our careers, blocking potential promotions, pay rises and ultimately any enjoyment that we might get out of going to work.’’

Kate Atkin MSc of Angela Ruskin University said:

 ‘‘I encourage those who think they might be experiencing Imposter Phenomenon to talk about it. I think they will soon realise that they are far on their own. By endlessly comparing ourselves to the achievements of others we can often forget to reflect on our own success. Recognise your professional skills. Don’t just put them down to luck.’’

Alexandra Sydney – Marketing Director, Totaljobs said:

“The potential of Imposter Phenomenon to have a destructive impact on our working lives is clear. Today’s findings have revealed astonishingly large numbers: over 7 in 10 of all UK workers affected by this issue across all industries and career levels.

The first thing for those who are experiencing Imposter Phenomenon is to recognise they are not alone. However, Imposter Phenomenon has become far too widespread and we need to acknowledge these feelings and make sure an individual’s negative perceptions of themselves are challenged.

It can be all too easy to forget that every so often we need to praise and thank others for their efforts. Clear job descriptions, specific feedback and a clear set of performance objectives are all tools which workers have told us have helped them to feel less like a fake.

Everyone has a role to play in championing the successes of others. We’re not all superhuman, and making mistakes is a natural part of our careers, but by ensuring that the workplace wins of our colleagues are recognised, we can begin to reverse this worrying trend.’’

– Ends –

 About the survey:

Survey of 2,286 UK workers in February 2019.

Research produced and analysed by Totaljobs with the help and guidance of Dr Terri Simpkin, leadership and inclusion researcher and Kate Atkin MSc, speaker, author and imposter phenomenon researcher, both of Anglia Ruskin University.

[1] 22,680,000. Figure based on 70% of total UK Workforce, ONS (2018)


About Totaljobs:

Formed in 1999, Totaljobs is one of UK’s leading job boards, attracting 20 million visits and over 4.3 million applications from qualified jobseekers every month. Over 300,000 jobseekers visit our platform every day, with over 270,000 jobs to choose from at any given time.

In May 2018, Totaljobs partnered with Jobsite to become the UK’s largest hiring platform offering employers the opportunity to advertise vacancies across both platforms from one system, and access to almost half of the UK working population.

Totaljobs and Jobsite are part of the StepStone Group, one of the world’s leading e-recruitment businesses. With a head office in London and offices in Birmingham, Havant, Cardiff, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham and Glasgow, StepStone in the UK comprises Totaljobs and Jobsite plus nine additional job boards. These include:, CatererGlobal, CWJobs, Milkround, CityJobs, RetailChoice, CareerStructure, JustEngineers and emedcareers. Together these brands provide access to 17.6 million searchable candidate profiles.

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