How to recognize perfectionism in work and change it for good

What is your understanding of work?

How do you think about your daily activities with others?

Do you feel satisfied and engaged?

These are only three of the questions asked in a Gallup survey,  conducted back in 2017  about work satisfaction with more than 32 000 employees.

On theory, work should be very satisfying for all people. It Is a source of social interaction,  something that gives us a sense of achievement and wins, made us feel contributing and being valued for what we are.  But in this picture, you must put also a corrective, and this corrective is the level of perfectionism everyone of us is leaving with. The modern workplace demands from us to do more work with fewer resources,  be available at all hours of the day and meet shrinking deadlines every time. While describing this reality we need to think how in this demanding economy our perfectionism will suffer. People who are more sensitive about demanding economic environment they often feel their jobs are very stressful. a

When you start thinking about the possible ways perfectionism can affect your life you will go to the conclusion that it affects every area of the life you live. It impacts not only life on an individual level but also organizations at whole. Because perfectionism is not cheap,  it costs money, time and energy. Perfectionism is not a healthy pursuit of excellence. It shows in different ways in your work:

Aggressive behavior

You will often come through people in your workplace who  “don’t suffer fools gladly”. Maybe you are one of them. This type of behavior is often a result of a perfectionism effort and way of thinking. When you put pressure on yourself to meet unrealistic standards, you are likely to put pressure also on others to meet these same standards. Maybe when someone mistakes you to overreact, labeling them as some type of “useless” or also  “worthless”.

Sometimes your forceful behavior may be caused by the understanding that they must all costs ensure that the person clearly understands the importance of the task. In other cases, it may be caused by your fear of failing or being criticized. That can lead you to defensive feelings, who can show as aggressive behavior.

This problem can be one of the most serious in every organization. And you must understand that these behavior doesn’t help your career advancement. If you are a leader working that way, you must sit down and think how this behavior of yours can affect engagement retention and results as a whole.

Controlling behavior

If you are a perfectionist you will probably feel anxious when you don’t control. This can affect the way you delegate tasks to others, because there is going to be only one way for the task to be finished, and this way is your way. When you delegate,  that involves trusting the other person to produce results that we will be judged on.  If you are a perfectionist that can go out of control by making you inflexible and uncompromising about mistakes. You will become some kind of control freak and micromanager.  Trying to control everything can make you blame those around you, the circumstances, etc. Your will to be hypercritical can have a negative impact on teams and relationships. This can be seen in a very strong way if your organization is trying to implement changes of some type.

Avoiding behavior

You may have problems advancing in your career while being a too big perfectionist.  In this role, you can avoid tasks that make you look incompetent and foolish, no matter if these tasks can lead you to the next role you desire. Often the perfectionist pulls out from anything where there is a risk of failure, and that leads them to deny the behavior and experience that can be learned. That happens because if you are a perfectionist you look for certainty in a life that is uncertain. Even if you miss a developmental opportunity,  you, staying on the position of the perfectionist feel relieved in these situations, because you have avoided an uncomfortable situation.  But you must understand that this feeling is only temporary because by avoiding something, e simply reinforce the stress associated with it, making it even more difficult to overcome it in the future.

Negative attitude

If you are socially prescribed perfectionist,  that can lead to problems at work. Today most leaders are very fast at criticizing and very slow at passing others. This, if you are a perfectionist is very damaging for you. Taking this role means that the crucial behavior for you is one of passing your results. That is what tickles you ahead. And if you are a strong perfectionist that doesn’t get that needed appraisal, this can make you feel exhausted, may cause feelings of cynicism and overall negative feeling towards your workplace, due to the feeling of unappreciation.


Procrastination is one of the reasons why stress grows. One of the reasons for that is because in the end, you will have to finish the task, no matter the tight deadline. Another reason why is procrastination so big stress causer is that when you put something off it doesn’t vanish, but stays in your background. You carry this thing around and it has a negative effect on your feelings. There may be many reasons why you procrastinate – too many plates in the air, you feel bored, you dislike the task, you have fear of failure, etc. 

Procrastination can create a vicious circle around you. It can be defined as “Complex issues, involving emotions, attitudes, and beliefs which  you  may  not even be consciously  aware of.”

When you procrastinate you may have difficulties to prioritize your work. This can affect your performance and results,  and if you are a strong perfectionist, also your self-acceptance.

Perfectionism can often get you to the point where you feel immobilized. That can bring you to a condition where you don’t take any decision to stay in the safe zone of comfort.

While you discover this statement of mind you show,  the easiest way to deal with it is to ask for help. If you  are perfectionist that  will be very  hard for you,  because this will mean that you  have failed, but if you  want to  get out from the situation you  have created, you  will need to  overcome this statement of mind and body  and go to others you see as successful  and ask  for help  within your situation.

Perfectionism and Leadership 

Managers who are perfectionists are unlikely to create leaders.  People who are able to create leaders must be open-minded, courageous, have a personal impact, empower others, build strong teams and are adaptable to different situations. They are those people ready to walk “the extra mile” to succeed. A good leader creates a culture where mistakes are just OK,  and there is where perfectionists, who are not ready to accept failure as an option,  struggle with the transition to leadership. Many people reach senior positions as a result of achieving some technical achievements(this is especially often seen in IT and Engineering), but when they move to leadership role they often find themselves still tied up to do the things perfectly in an operational way. Those people fail to delegate and start micromanaging others. They find it really challenging to accept that their job now is to inspire others and achieve results through them.

Another area where you must focus on if you are a leader with a strong perfectionist attitude is a vision for the future.  If you focus on details and still don’t let others make mistake, you won’t be able to form a vision of growth for the future, by coming out of the position that failure is not an option, no matter how long it will take to finish the work without any mistakes. That can have a negative impact not only on the coworkers but also on the result and future growth for the whole unit you are leading.


Perfectionism is not a bad thing.  Some of the greatest achievements in human history are made from people who are perfectionists. But if you are one of that perfectionist who wants to bring something new and great on the table you will need to focus on recognizing and managing successfully the level of perfectionism you put in your work,  according to the level of the position you hold. When achieving that you will be a successful contributor to your company success. 


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