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The Link between Bullying, harassment and imposter syndrome in the workplace

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A recent survey found that 47% of UK employees have observed bullying or harassment in their workplace, with 1 in 10 experiencing it themselves. This demonstrates the severity of the issue, and the negative impact bullying, harassment and consequent feelings of imposter syndrome can have on people’s careers and wellbeing.

Bertrand Stern-Gillet, CEO at Health Assured, looks at the link between bullying, harassment and imposter syndrome and shares his top tips to help overcome it.

What is bullying and harassment?

Although there is no legal definition, bullying and harassment are loosely defined as behaviours which persecute, exclude, or offend an individual. Any behaviour which is unacceptable, unwanted, and has a negative impact on your mental or physical health can be considered bullying or harassment. This can include personal attacks, humiliation, exclusion, or verbal criticism, as well as less obvious actions such as gaslighting or hostility.

Being a victim of bullying or harassment can lead to physical and psychological health issues, such as anxiety, depression, headaches, muscle tension, changes in appetite, increased stress, and low self-esteem. The effects of workplace bullying do not end when you leave the workplace.

What is imposter syndrome?

The conversation around ‘imposter syndrome’ is growing rapidly. A term which was widely unheard of until a few years ago, now seems to seep into discussions everywhere – especially in the workplace. Imposter syndrome, which is also known as ‘perceived fraudulence’, is where an individual doesn’t believe they are as competent as other people perceive them to be. Researchers estimate that approximately 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at one point or another. In the last five to seven years it’s become a focal topic of conversation in the workplace.

The main characteristics of imposter syndrome include an extreme lack of self-confidence, feelings of inadequacy, putting yourself down, dwelling on past events, attributing success to external factors, overachieving and burnout.

How is bullying and harassment in the workplace linked to imposter syndrome?

Continuously feeling belittled, humiliated, or excluded for no apparent reason can have a negative impact on a person’s ability to do their job. When your mental health or self-esteem takes a knock, it can lead to feelings of doubt about your ability to do your job or and trouble seeing how you fit within an organization. This impacts on a person’s productivity, decision making and concentration, in turn fueling the imposter syndrome. It’s a vicious and destructive cycle which can have severe consequences on a person, leaving them feeling powerless, confused, and helpless.  

How to cope with bullying and harassment in the workplace

The first step should always be to report incidents of bullying or harassment to management and HR so they can start a formal investigation. But there are other alternative strategies which can help as a coping mechanism in the meantime.

How to overcome imposter syndrome in the workplace:

The impact of imposter syndrome can linger, causing persistently low self-esteem. While there is no direct cure there are a few ways to help overcome it.

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