This Habit Will Destroy Your Work Life and Cost Your Company

The dangers of perfectionism

This Habit Will Destroy Your Work Life and Cost Your Company

This Habit Will Destroy Your Work Life and Cost Your Company


  • Two kinds of perfectionism exists:
  1. Adaptive perfectionism allows a person to focus on internal striving, remain open to feedback, and know not to nitpick.
  2. Maladaptive perfectionism causes incredible anxiety and stems from a deep fear of failure.
  • Those who struggle with perfectionism are costly to a workplace in terms of deadlines, time, and internal and external trust.
  • Perfectionism does not always need to be stress-inducing. Managers can take steps to handle a perfectionist-oriented employee, such as encouraging task delegation.
  • For perfectionists, a simple exercise of writing down what performance is most realistic given current resources is enormously helpful.


Perfectionism can have grave consequences in both private and work life. Brené Brown, PhD, a professor specializing in the research of shame and vulnerability says that perfectionism is a form of armor, a way people protect themselves from getting hurt. In a conversation with Oprah, Dr. Brown went on to explain how perfectionism becomes evident in areas we feel vulnerable to shame. Those who struggle with perfectionism are often truly to avoid “criticism, blame, and ridicule”.

“Perfectionism” is a characteristic within people that set unrealistic standards for themselves and always find the flaw in their work. Perfectionism is not entirely deleterious—in small doses. “Adaptive perfectionism” allows people to strive internally to reach for high goals, but they know how to receive feedback and when to submit a project as it stands. A “maladaptive perfectionist” possesses a sole driving emotion in their work: fear of failure; they remain anxious and nitpick at their work. Unsurprisingly, this leads to a state of severe stress. The high correlation between perfectionism and burnout is staggering.

A team member that focuses on providing excellence is a welcome asset on a project, but perfectionists have critical limitations within the work place. For example, redoing tasks and then missing deadlines creates incredible tension within a team and/or client.  It distinctly affects the morale of those around and ultimately becomes an expensive habit that disables the team to operate at the highest level.

The overlying effects of perfectionism in a professional setting include:

-Stunted productivity

-Reluctancy in taking risks

-Smothers innovation

In the back of a perfectionist’s mind, as they roll up their sleeves, is the belief, “My perfectionism produces better results”.  Untrue.  In a 2010 study that examined the academic productivity and levels of perfectionism of psychology professors, they observed that those with high levels of perfectionism did produce more publications. However, did perfectionists create superior papers? No, their papers tended to be less effectual. The end-results speak to the measurable difference between striving for excellence and perfection.

How can a manager or a person having perfectionistic tendencies harness the motivation for excellence, but decrease its harsher consequences?

If you are a manager overseeing a perfectionist employee, sit down with your employee and explain how delegating tasks will make their work more productive and foster a better team environment. Name specific tasks that could be delegated, naming team members who could potentially take over those tasks. If your employee has a tendency to micromanage, be sure to emphasize how giving a task to that other team member gives them a chance to grow professional as they refine a skill.

If you struggle with the perfectionism, Andy Hill, PhD, an associate professor of health and life sciences at York St. John University offers a simple and effective method to give perspective.

“Write down what an ideal performance, a good performance and an acceptable performance would look like. Then pick up what you’re up against in terms of time and resources and pick the goal that’s most realistic”

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