If you feel that perfectionism is associated with high performance and higher success rates, you might be surprised to learn that it has a dark side as well. It might seem that trying to work diligently with extremely high standards is good for productivity and success, but that’s not always the case.
What is perfectionism?
Perfectionists hold themselves to incredibly high, often unattainable standards and engage in harsh self-criticism when they fall short. Research from psychologists Paul Hewitt and Gordon Flett found younger generations — specifically Gen Z and millennials — are showing higher tendencies of perfectionism than previous generations. Not only that, those tendencies are increasing, or becoming more prevalent, as time goes on.
The dark side? Constantly striving for the unattainable can have devastating effects on the psyche. “Perfectionism is a virtue to be extolled definitely,” said Prem Fry, a psychology professor at Trinity Western University in Canada. “But beyond a certain threshold, it backfires and becomes an impediment,” she said.
The link between perfectionism and mental health
Perfectionism in the workplace is problematic for many reasons. Those who lean toward perfectionism exhibit harsh self-criticism when they don’t receive the highest scores or forms of approval. This can create high levels of stress and psychological turmoil that negatively affects their health and wellbeing.
The World Economic Forum reports there is “substantial evidence indicating that perfectionism is associated with (among other things) depression, anorexia nervosa, suicide ideation, and early death.” Considering how stressed out today’s workers are already, it’s easy to understand how any increase in pressure or stress could lead to poor mental health down the road.
Tips to ease stress and combat the negative effects of perfectionism
Learning to recognize the sources of pressure to be perfect, both real and perceived, is an excellent first step. Here are a few initiatives you can work to implement in your office to help everyone, not just the perfectionists, have a happier, healthier worklife.
Healthy culture. Helping build a workplace wellbeing program is an excellent place to start, as it supports all aspects of employee health. It can help cultivate a healthy workplace culture, one where you and your coworkers feel happy, valued, included, accepted, appreciated, respected and supported.
Health coaching. Asking your employer to bring on a workplace health coach can be an incredible resource for you and your coworkers. Through a person-first, wholistic approach, coaches address the full spectrum of your health, including mental wellbeing. Connecting with a person, even if it’s just a short call, can kickstart your path to better health and wellbeing.
Peer relationships. Fostering positive social interactions and re-affirming team building exercises between you and your co-workers leads to a more productive, happier work environment for everyone.
The Cut. Study on perfectionism and millennials. https://www.thecut.com/2018/01/new-study-on-perfectionism-and-millennials.html
American Psychological Association. Perfectionism increasing over time.
https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-bul0000138.pdf (Accessed 10/10/19)
Virgin Pulse blog. Is perfectionism negatively impacting your organization? https://www.virginpulse.com/blog/ (Accessed 10/10/19)