It is generally perceived that perfectionist people are the ideal employees for any company. They only turn away from the company when they are satisfied that they have delivered the highest quality. New research, however, shows that the “perfect” employee runs a greater risk of a burn-out than his or her “average” colleague. They are time bombs that explode sooner or later without proper guidance.
For years a burn-out has been on the table for people and they thought there could be a link with perfectionist people, however, it has never been really proven. Recently psychologists have been studying the relationship between burnout, mental resilience and perfectionism. A number of psychological tests on a couple of hundred people have demonstrated that the risk of burnout increased sharply among perfectionist people. Read more and I will make clear why a perfect employee is more sensitive to burnout.
What is perfectionism?
Essential in explaining this is having an understanding of what a perfectionist person really is like, so here it is according to Wikipedia:
Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.
It is a trait that makes life an endless reporting act on their accomplishments or looks. A fast and enduring track to unhappiness, it is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. And love isn’t a way out; in fact, it feels way too conditional on performance. Perfection, of course, is an abstraction, an impossibility in reality, and often it leads to procrastination. Please also note the difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection.
Knowing this, you already might feel that these type of people might be very vulnerable to critics and do not take anything lightly. To further enlighten you, here are some characteristics of perfectionists.
They tend to take the defensive. Perfectionists often get very defensive when they are criticized because a critique threatens to expose their weaknesses, much in the same way failing does. Perfectionists perceive criticism as a measure of their worth or ability.
They fear to fail in some way. While nobody really likes to fail, perfectionists take fear of failure to a different level. Instead of finding what valuable lessons could be lurking in the failure, a perfectionist takes it very personal. To combat this fear, a perfectionist might overcompensate by reading something over and over again, obsessing about lists and organization, or being unable to make a decision.
They are finding faults with self and others. Perfectionists are often on the lookout for imperfections in themselves and others. Perfectionists tend to be largely overcritical of any misstatement, misspelling or flaw and see it as vitally important to correct people when they make a mistake.
They are having a too rigid standard for themselves and others. Perfectionists are setting high standards for themselves, and are thus bound to set them for others, including their bosses. Perfectionists might need to come up with their own version of “good is good enough.” Inflexible thinking including the use of words like “must” “should” and “have to” should be avoided.
They have an excessive need for control over others. Perfectionists often try to control the behavior or thoughts of the people in their lives as a way of preventing them from making mistakes or encountering harm.
They can’t trust someone else to handle it. You might have heard the saying: ‘Do I have to do everything myself?’ Perfectionists do. Many high-achievers, as a result, find it very difficult to delegate and when they do, become micro- managers. Read here about micro-managers and their impact on you.
Becoming under stress
Now back to the tests. It has been known for a long time that perfectionism is a factor that leads to burnout, but that connection had not been tested and demonstrated on this scale before. The connection appears to be crushing. Certainly in people who combine perfectionism with a so-called “suffering pressure”. Perfectionism as such is not so wrong, but becomes problematic if you set the bar unrealistically high, and then stress arises. Moreover, perfectionists who score low on mental resilience are very difficult to channel, making their perfectionism a huge burden.
The burden can sometimes go beyond a burnout. The tests showed that even the risk of self-mutilation and suicide is higher among perfectionists. Perfectionists who suffer are more likely to avoid positive activities that could compensate for worry – such as sports – in fact, they trade those activities in for business that puts them in even more pressure. They work one hour longer in the evening on a presentation or they quickly reply to a few emails. They do that to relieve pressure, but they do not realize that it leads to even more stress.
Designated perfect example
Despite the high risk of burnout employers often use ‘the perfectionist’ as a role model. Companies are specifically looking for profiles of this type when they are recruiting, but they do not realize that they are actually attracting possible time bombs. If you do not guide them properly, they will explode sooner or later. However, within an organization it is often the employees who should be referred to. They make enough overtime and work everything down to the last detail. “Take an example of that,” it often sounds to managers. Wrong! Because those “examples” have burned out completely after a few years.
Scientists argue for more and better guidance within companies. Health coaches are appearing in some firms, but ‘perfectionism coaches’ would sometimes make more sense. Employers complain about the fact that they have many long-term sick people, but they also have to dare to ask themselves questions. What culture is there in the company? Is there room for error? And how do they show appreciation to their staff? As an employer you can safely recruit perfectionists, but then you also have to give much more feedback than with an average employee. After all, it is people who constantly wonder whether what they are doing is good enough. “Does my work meet the requirements?” “Is the boss satisfied?” “What if I still go wrong? The conclusion might be that you have to evaluate those people more often and say what was right or wrong.
It takes time
In many companies, however, we see the opposite happening. There are rarely any evaluation moments, because it is too time-consuming for managers. Or employers hold a single performance appraisal at the end of the year, which can be deadly for other employees as well. Meanwhile, perfectionists struggle with all kinds of questions and that feeds their insecurity. Which then leads to stress and ultimately results in a burnout. Even if they recover from it, things sometimes go wrong again because they return to the job too early. That way you stay busy.
Not only the boss of the ‘perfect’ employee can remedy the problem, the employee himself can also do something about it. Perfectionists must dare to question their own high demands. Are they realistic? And they must dare to compare themselves more with the average colleague. Because, as we have seen above, the perfect employee is not the one who is always perfect. On the contrary.
Perfectionist behaviors can be sneaky because they are similar to the type of behaviors that most people use to maintain their standards; however, they vary in frequency and intensity.
Often without realizing it, perfectionists with so many high expectations, wants, standards, especially towards others, may not yet fully appreciate the adverse consequences. On other people, but also on themselves.
Bosses can play a crucial part in avoiding problems with perfectionist people, by recognizing them and then manage them in the right way.
Perfectionist people should look in the mirror some times and realize the effect their behavior can have on others in the organization. Some of them might come to the conclusion that they really are not suited for the corporate jungle and rather would work for themselves.
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