Fear of Being Exposed: The Trait-Relatedness of the Impostor Phenomenon and its Relevance in the Work Context

Abstract

Purpose

The impostor phenomenon (IP) refers to the intense feelings of intellectual fraudulence, often experienced by high-achieving individuals. The purpose of this study is threefold: (1) examine the trait-relatedness of the IP; (2) investigate the potential impact of impostor tendencies on relevant work attitudes (i.e., job satisfaction and organizational commitment) and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB); and (3) explore whether workplace social support can buffer the potential harmful effects of impostor tendencies.

Design/methodology/approach

Belgian employees (N = 201) from three different sectors participated in a cross-sectional survey study.

Findings

Hierarchical regressions revealed that Big Five personality traits, core self-evaluations, and maladaptive perfectionism explain large proportions of the variance in impostor tendencies (∆R 2 = .59). A relative weight analysis indicated self-efficacy as the most important predictor, followed by maladaptive perfectionism and Neuroticism. Further, results showed that employees with stronger impostor tendencies indicate lower levels of job satisfaction and OCB, and higher levels of continuance commitment. However, workplace social support buffered the negative effects of impostor tendencies on job satisfaction and OCB.

Implications

Employees hampered by impostor tendencies could benefit from coaching programs that focus on the enhancement of self-efficacy and the alleviation of maladaptive perfectionistic concerns. Impostor tendencies have an impact on career attitudes and organizational behavior. Extra attention could be devoted to the assessment of this specific trait constellation in selection or development contexts. Interventions designed to increase social support are particularly relevant in this regard.

Originality/value

Despite its relevance for contemporary work settings, the IP has barely been investigated in adult working samples.

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Vergauwe, J., Wille, B., Feys, M. et al. Fear of Being Exposed: The Trait-Relatedness of the Impostor Phenomenon and its Relevance in the Work Context. J Bus Psychol 30, 565–581 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-014-9382-5

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Keywords

  • Impostor phenomenon
  • Personality
  • Job satisfaction
  • Organizational citizenship behavior
  • Organizational commitment
  • Workplace social support