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Published 13 December 2022

Over three quarters of UK business leaders have experienced impostor syndrome

Being in charge doesn’t always mean you are free from doubt. According to NerdWallet’s exclusive survey, more than three quarters of UK business owners have experienced imposter syndrome during their careers. We take a look at what triggers feelings of doubt and how it affects performance.

With greater pressure to succeed in a competitive market, business owners and leaders can start to doubt their own skills and achievements. But how prevalent is impostor syndrome – the feeling that you are not as capable as others around you, coupled with the fear that you’ll be exposed as a fraud? And what impact is it having on business owners in the UK?

In a recent poll of 500 business owners and decision-makers in the UK, NerdWallet found that over three quarters (78%) said that they have experienced impostor syndrome, with almost half (47%) of those who have experienced it reporting that it’s currently affecting them. Just over half (52%) of all respondents even said that it was affecting their ability to lead their business or team.

Imposter syndrome was so common among those we spoke to in the UK business community that just 22% said that they hadn’t experienced it.

What is encouraging is that feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy seem to be commonly discussed at home, with over half of those surveyed confiding in friends (69%) and family (65%). Just over half (51%) of the business leaders we spoke to even felt comfortable discussing these emotions with co-workers or employees.

However, it seems that imposter syndrome is still taboo in some spheres, with just 21% saying they had discussed these feelings with their peers or other business leaders – and with a further 4% not discussing impostor syndrome with anyone else.

What triggers self-doubt?

While everyone’s experience of impostor syndrome may be different, and the factors affecting those experiencing feelings of self-doubt will vary, there seems to be a few common factors among business owners who report experiencing impostor syndrome.

Among those surveyed, impostor syndrome was most present in those at the start of their careers, aged 18-24 (63%), and in those towards the end of their working lives, aged over 65 (69%).

Perhaps understandably, starting a new role or business was the most common situation in which business leaders experienced impostor syndrome (57%). This was closely followed by receiving praise in front of colleagues (55%).

And although everyone feels pressure at different times and in different scenarios, it seems that imposter syndrome comes to the forefront when business leaders have to do exactly what their role entails – visibly lead their teams. Almost half of the business leaders we polled said that they felt inadequate when they had to carry out meetings with team members (49%); carry out performance reviews (47%); give a presentation in front of team members (44%); and when asked questions in front of the wider team (31%).

The impact on work performance

For some, the feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy can have a serious impact on their performance at work and may even lead to leaving their job altogether. Over half (59%) of the business leaders we spoke to have considered leaving their job due to impostor syndrome and have left a previous job because of it. Almost a third (31%) have considered doing so but haven’t followed through on it yet.

In terms of the effect impostor syndrome has had on the lives of those surveyed, the areas that were most impacted were professional relationships (64%), followed by physical health (53%), personal finances (51%), and personal relationships (46%).

The survey results showed that impostor syndrome could be fairly common among business leaders in the UK. It can have a negative impact on their ability to do their job, lead their team, and live their daily life without the additional stress and anxiety of doubting their own abilities and worth. This survey highlights the importance of engaging in open conversations about the topic within the workplace.

About the research

The survey was conducted by OnePoll on behalf of NerdWallet, polling 500 UK business owners and senior decision-makers over the age of 18. The survey was conducted between 24 November 2022 and 30 November 2022. OnePoll is an MRS Partners Company and its employees agree to adhere to the MRS Code of Conduct and MRS Company Partners Quality Commitment while undertaking research.

Image source: Getty Images

About the Author

Connor Campbell

Connor is a lead writer and spokesperson for NerdWallet. Previously at Spreadex, his market commentary has been quoted in the likes of the BBC, The Guardian, Evening Standard, Reuters and…

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