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Impostor phenomenon, toxic workplaces and emotional intelligence.

Impostor phenomenon, toxic workplaces and emotional intelligence.
13th October 2018 Andrew Farquharson
In Emotional Intelligence
impostor phenomenon

Toxic workplaces are often characterised by an environment that diminishes or manages out the humanity of the place and its people, as well as promoting competition. A focus on profit, process and minimising resources is pronounced. Bullying is normalised and embedded in managerial and colleague behaviour, while leadership is inert and ineffectual against it.

In toxic workplaces, work is often seen as drudgery, the motivating elements sucked out of the environment. Unmoderated criticism and punitive measures stifle original thinking, thus reducing the intrinsic rewards of work, such as having an outlet for expressing one’s unique talents and creative thinking.

The unhealthy marriage between the impostor phenomenon and toxic work cultures is sustained at an individual level by the basic human need for safety and belonging. This interferes with “rational” decision making and supersedes the entrepreneurialism and risk taking that would challenge the status quo. This is detrimental to both a person and their employer who might otherwise benefit from new ideas.

Dysfunctional competition

A rampant competitiveness in certain workplaces often provides a breeding ground for anxiety, Thoughtfuldepression and self-degradation. The finance sector is especially prone to this. Here constant winning is the cultural norm, even though it’s just not possible to win all the time.

This breeds perfectionism, which also fuels people’s need to micromanage. Dysfunctional competition gets prioritised over collaboration. People who feel like they are impostors will often fail to delegate for fear that others won’t meet their own exacting standards and that this will reflect badly on them. As a result, they take on more than they can realistically manage.

The imbalance this produces between effort and rewards exacerbates the feeling of inadequacy and creates a negative feedback loop, which leads to mental exhaustion. And if both the person and the organisation implicitly fail to recognise the toxic combination of impostor tendencies and an unhealthy work culture, they both passively endorse this social contract.

Sadly, as the digital revolution progresses, it is becoming clearer that our contemporary workplaces are demanding productivity outcomes to match. But they are using antiquated managerial structures. Workplace processes – such as poorly constructed performance management, a lack of diversity in succession planning and limited understanding of inclusion initiatives beyond box ticking exercises – fuel the very behaviour and thought patterns that these workplace structures aim to manage out.

Full article in The Conversation.