Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Overreward and the Impostor Phenomenon

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Overreward and the Impostor Phenomenon

Article excerpt

Overreward in the selection process potentially carries serious implications for organizations. Equity theory (Adams, 1963, 1965) proposes that individuals who feel underrewarded or overrewarded will experience tension (e.g., frustration in the case of underreward or guilt in the case of overreward) and will take steps to rectify the inequity. While much literature has been attributed to the study of underreward (e.g., Gilliland, 1993; Greenberg, 1990) and the multiple outcomes that are associated with this type of distributive justice, relatively little attention has been paid to overreward. This could be due to a generalized belief that overreward is not very common since there is a higher threshold of inequity (Miner, 2002; Adams, 1965). This higher threshold implies that overreward inequity will be tolerated more readily than underreward. While some may question the existence of overreward, research in the area of underreporting billable hours for personal satisfaction or to improve performance evaluations indicates that some individuals do feel a sense of and recognize the idea of overreward (Akers and Eaton, 2003). Although this viewpoint may be true, overreward may still cause problems for the employee and employer in the work environment.

Overreward in the selection process occurs when an individual receives an employment offer that exceeds the individual's expectations relative to the perception of his/her qualifications. This distributive injustice in the form of inequity causes feelings of unease within the applicant. Guilt is one potential response to the perceived inequity, and guilt may lead the applicant to reject the employment offer (Mowday, 1996; Miner, 2002; Gilliland, 1993). Alternatively, the offer may be "too good to refuse" and the person may accept the offer even if he/she does not feel it is deserved. If, however, the job is accepted, the individual may experience impostor feelings referred to as the impostor phenomenon (Clance and Imes, 1978). When an employee experiences the impostor phenomenon, he/she feels like an "impostor" or a phony that was mistakenly or accidentally offered the job despite his/ her inadequacies and will eventually be found out.

The impostor phenomenon has been defined as "an internal experience of intellectual phoniness in high achievers who are unable to internalize their successful experiences" (Bernard et al., 2002: 321). The impostor phenomenon generally applies to individuals who are successful by external standards but have a self-perception of personal incompetence (Chrisman et al., 1995; Clance and Imes, 1978). It was first applied to high-achieving women, who regarded themselves as impostors in spite of credentials and achievements indicating otherwise (Clance and Imes, 1978). The impostor phenomenon, or feeling of phoniness, plays an important role in shaping the attitudes and behaviors of the individual within the workplace. As Clance and Imes (1978) expressed, there is a fear within the individual that he/she will be "found out" since the job is not deserved. Thus, the employee will experience increased pressure to perform in order to meet expectations. According to Clance and Imes (1978), individuals who suffer from the impostor phenomenon experience generalized anxiety, a lack of self-confidence, depression, and frustration due to a perceived inability to meet high levels of self-imposed standards.

Research in psychology has validated the impostor phenomenon as a construct distinct from related constructs such as self-esteem, self-monitoring, and social anxiety (Chrisman et al., 1995; Cozzarelli and Major, 1990; Edwards et al., 1987). The impostor phenomenon, as a construct, encompasses (1) feelings of intellectual phoniness, (2) beliefs that individual success is based on luck or hard work rather than ability, (3) lack of confidence in the ability to replicate past successes, (4) fear of evaluation by others, as well as failure, (5) fear that one's incompetence will be discovered, and (6) an inability to take pleasure in one's achievements (Clance and Imes, 1978; September et al. …

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