Don't let your workplace insecurities shake your career

How workplaces can create a cycle of self-doubt for employees

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
2 minute read

It is the nagging feeling that we are not quite as intelligent, informed or insightful as we ought to be – or as others might think we are.

It’s called insecurity and it is increasingly pervading our workplace.

Everyone feels insecure at some stage of their career. We worry about the way we come across in meetings even though we have much to contribute, or about being too slow to grasp the gist of what others are saying or, worse, about missing the point entirely. 

It is also possible that we fret that we are not up to meeting important deadlines or that we worry about offering feedback to someone for fear of offending them.

Insecurity is particularly common when we start a new job. It is also widespread when our capacity to get things done is constantly under scrutiny by others or when we feel we always have to defend our work or justify our decisions. 

The insecure worker is made, not born. 

When we step into a workplace where there is little support from leaders and colleagues, our efforts are not valued or recognised and unfair criticism is dished up regularly, we can begin to doubt our own capabilities.

Once in a cycle of self-doubt, we lose our ability to assess our own competence, we downplay our own achievements and we become extremely reliant on external validation such as praise from a colleague. In other words, our loss of confidence means we are unable to tell ourselves that we have done something well – we have to hear it from someone else.

General emotional insecurity in the workplace is not to be confused with something called “imposter syndrome”, which is experienced by high achievers and tends to focus on concerns about being exposed as a complete fake.

If you are not insecure yourself, you will have witnessed insecurity among your colleagues. 

Red flags include someone who frequently second-guesses their own decisions, a colleague who relentlessly seeks the approval of others and the co-worker who is overly self-deprecating. Some colleagues might even come across as arrogant in an endeavour to mask their own insecurities.

The good news is that workplace insecurities are often temporary and can be addressed and remedied. 

Challenging negative thoughts or self-talk can help put things into perspective. Taking on a mentor to assist with addressing insecurities and build confidence also works for many.

Determining the exact situation in which insecurity is experienced also helps to confront feelings and allows someone to take small manageable steps to overcome insecurities.

For example, if someone is insecure about speaking up at a meeting, setting a goal to make at least one contribution during a session might be more manageable than making multiple offerings.

Workplace insecurities are real – even for those who would not normally consider themselves “insecure” – though they do not have to put the brakes on anyone’s career growth.