A perfectionist? You may be at risk of burnout

Picture: PA
Picture: PA
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Employees who strive for perfection in the workplace are being driven to extreme stress and burnout, research has found.

The personality trait - featuring excessively high personal standards coupled with harsh self-criticism - is usually associated with virtue, high achievement and being conscientious.

But researchers from York St John University and the University of Bath have found it is “largely destructive” and can lead to poorer performance at work.

The work, published in the journal Personality & Social Psychology Review, is the first to aggregate the full effects of perfectionism.

It found the trait is closely associated with burnout - a syndrome associated with chronic stress that manifests as extreme fatigue, perceived reduced accomplishment and eventual detachment.

The link is particularly strong in employment settings, which researchers suggest could be due to a “prevailing performance-outcomes focus” in the modern workplace.

Perfectionist tendencies are exacerbated when poor performance carries significant costs, leading to increased stress for individuals and a lack of innovation for organisations.

Dr Andrew Hill, associate professor and head of taught postgraduate programmes at York St John University, was lead author of the review.

“Too often people confuse perfectionism with more desirable features such as being conscientious,” Dr Hill said.

“Rather than being more productive, perfectionists are likely to find the workplace quite difficult and stressful.

“Our research suggests that if perfectionists are unable to cope with demands and uncertainty in the workplace, they will experience a range of emotional difficulties.”

Dr Thomas Curran, lecturer in sport psychology at the University of Bath, added: “As a society we tend to hold perfectionism as a sign of virtue or high-achievement. Yet our findings show that perfectionism is a largely destructive trait. We suggest its effects can be managed and organisations must be clear that perfection is not a criteria of success. Instead, diligence, flexibility and perseverance are far better qualities.”

In recent years, companies including Google have established initiatives to counter perfectionism and drive up quality by rewarding staff for failure.

The researchers say that such methods as well as a greater focus on balanced working lives, depressurised working environments and a greater acceptance of failure, could help mitigate the negative effects associated with perfectionism.