Perfectionism in the workplace — is it a bad thing? It might seem that a diligent employee with extremely high standards is good for productivity and success, but that’s not always the case.
What is perfectionism?
A perfectionist holds themselves to incredibly high, often unattainable, standards and engages 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.
For younger generations in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. specifically, the World Economic Forum believes this increase in perfectionism stems from the constant evaluation and ranking they receive from every aspect of society — social media, education systems, and the workplace. All of which put “enormous pressure on young people to demonstrate their value and outperform their peers.” It also creates a situation where the pressure to perform is perceived to be coming from external sources, also called socially prescribed perfectionism. This has been deemed “the most damaging” type of perfectionism, according to the American Psychological Association.
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 mental ill health down the road.
Tips to ease stress and combat the negative effects of perfectionism
Employers first need to educate themselves on the growing trend of perfectionism (especially among younger generations) and utilise resources to help. Understanding the collective mental health of Generation Z and millennials is key to creating supportive work environments that help these talented cohorts thrive.
- Healthy Culture: A workplace wellbeing program is an excellent place to start, as it supports all aspects of employee health and wellbeing. It can help cultivate a healthy workplace culture where employees feel happy, valued, included, accepted, appreciated, respected and supported. Most importantly, workplace wellbeing programs allow employees to access the resources that are most relevant to them and go at their own pace.
- Health Coaching: Health coaches are incredible resources for employees. Through a person-first, holistic approach, coaches address the full spectrum of an employee’s health, including mental wellbeing. Connecting with a person, even a short call, can kickstart an employee’s path to better health and wellbeing.
- Peer Relationships: Employers that take an active role to encourage teamwork and positive social interactions among their employees will gain a more productive, happier workforce in return. Learn the strategies to help you get there.