The costs of perfectionism in the workplace

“Is that the finest you are able to do?”

What number of instances have been you requested this as a baby while you failed to realize that excellent grade? What number of instances a day do you ask your self this now in reference to your productiveness, your output, your relationships, or your look?

We dwell in a world of rampant perfectionism. Whereas many of us take pleasure in our “excessive requirements” and “drive for excellence,” we ignore the many destructive unintended effects perfectionism can have on our well being, happiness, and productiveness.


So how did we get this manner? And the way can we repair it? My colleagues Deborah Bonzell and Ellen Burton at our teaching firm have collected just a few easy shifts to rework your perfectionist tendencies from dangerous to useful.

The costs of perfectionism

Many of us have been introduced as much as consider that attaining good grades and following the guidelines have been the solely paths to success. However this method produces as a lot concern and dread, if no more, as studying, particularly for learners who don’t thrive in the conventional “sit and get” atmosphere.

As Stanford College professor Carol Dweck has compellingly argued, the conventional mannequin of educating reinforces a “fastened mindset,” or the thought that you’re both naturally clever otherwise you merely aren’t. She demonstrates that in distinction, the “growth mindset“—the perception that intelligence might be developed—helps higher achievement in the long-run as a result of college students expertise failure as momentary and optimistically embrace the subsequent problem.

We outline a development mindset as the “aware choice to view our skills as dynamic belongings we’re regularly creating.” This mindset is equally as essential in our grownup lives, as we develop, study, and sure, fail in our careers, hobbies, and relationships. For people caught up in the unimaginable pursuit for perfection, research present the result’s usually increased stress, anxiety, and depression.  Discovering a typo after a presentation or lacking a deadline can ship them right into a tailspin. Asking for assistance is considered as an unacceptable signal of weak spot. And since they’re rewarded for being “diligent,” “going above and past,” being an excellent “group participant,” and having “distinctive consideration to element,”these behaviors are positively bolstered and simply grow to be ingrained habits.

Organizations that anticipate perfection are sometimes rewarded with extraordinary efficiency — for some time. Over time, nonetheless, the relentlessness of the expectations and the lack of tolerance for something lower than excellent produces resentment, exhaustion, and in the end burnout. As Stanford College professor Jeffrey Pfeffer argues in his e-book Dying for a Paycheck, “employers can, both deliberately or by ignorance and neglect, create workplaces that actually sicken and kill individuals.” Whereas this may increasingly sound like an excessive assertion, the largest trigger of persistent sickness is stress, and the most typical supply of that stress is the workplace.

Breaking free from perfectionism

How are you aware while you’ve crossed the line from “going above and past” to damaging perfectionist tendencies? The distinction between optimistic striving and maladaptive perfectionism has just a few traits:


  • Perfectionists consider that the subsequent factor should all the time be higher than the final, resulting in a vicious cycle of continuously falling brief as a result of the purpose posts maintain transferring.
  • Perfectionists berate themselves for falling brief of their self-imposed splendid even when others view their accomplishments as vital. In distinction, wholesome achievers have the luxurious of having fun with what they’re doing, even whereas stretching their limits.
  • Perfectionists undergo from melancholy, nervousness, and burnout as a result of of the self-imposed stress of their very own expectations.

Avoiding the appreciable downsides of perfectionism requires three mindset shifts, which we outline underneath a “From-to” format:

  • From Every thing issues to What issues most: Once we shift from maximizing every thing we do (making an attempt to provide each an A+ effort and obtain an A+ outcome) to prioritizing and devoting ourselves absolutely to solely what deserves it, we unlock important time and area for self-renewal.
  • From The end line to Interim milestones: Shifting from a black-and-white deal with outcomes to recognizing the small wins alongside the approach helpfully alerts “good job!” to our mind. In consequence, we study to have fun progress quite than simply outcomes.
  • From Doing all of it to Doing what we are able to: Releasing ourselves from the unrealistic expectation of with the ability to do every thing to doing the finest we are able to allows us to let go.

Creating a resilient tradition

For those who’re an organizational chief making an attempt to interrupt the cycle of perfectionism in your personal group, your chief alerts are all-important. Be intentional, since each motion you’re taking as a frontrunner shapes the tradition. Listed here are some behaviors that may provide help to develop this kind of tradition.

  • Applaud, not simply end result, effort
  • Display vulnerability by revealing your personal shortcomings and inner worries
  • Encourage prioritization and the willingness to say “no” notably to higher-ups
  • Present humanity and empathy to your group. Lead with genuine connection earlier than diving into the particulars of the work.

Remodeling the behavior of perfectionism right into a wholesome tradition that trusts and values the development mindset takes appreciable time and intention. But it surely’s value it. If you need a resilient and comfortable workforce, the unsustainable cycle of perfection should be damaged. Strolling away from perfectionism doesn’t imply reducing your requirements. It merely means adopting a extra nuanced view of the distinction between effort and end result.

Shani Harmon is a founder of Stop Meeting Like This, a skilled companies agency. For the previous 20 years she has been a tireless advocate for locating methods to work that unleash people’ full potential. She has consulted with Fortune 500 corporations throughout the globe, serving to them reimagine conferences, work practices, and collaboration whereas eradicating wasteful and senseless actions.