Perfectionists have high personal standards and are highly self-critical. The personality trait is often associated with conscientiousness (a strong predictor of success), virtue, and high achievement.
However far from giving themselves a competitive edge, it can lead to poorer performance at work.
The trait is also closely associated with burnout – a syndrome associated with chronic stress which manifests as extreme fatigue, perceived reduced accomplishment, and eventual detachment.
I once coached a person who was such a perfectionist and who worked in a PR role for a company that was about to go public. There was a lot of pressure on her so her boss gave her an assistant who was a graduate but had a poor grasp of English grammar and spelling (why does that not surprise me these days?) The result was that she increased her workload double checking all the work done by her new assistant. End result – burnout. She left the company and eventually found satisfaction working as a freelancer.
In work setting where poor performance has negative outcomes perfectionist tendencies can be exacerbated. “Rather than being more productive perfectionists are likely to find the workplace quite difficult and stressful. If they are unable to cope with demands and uncertainty in their workplace they will experience a range of emotional difficulties” said Andrew Hill, associate professor at York St Johns.
His co-researcher at Bath, sports lecturer Thomas Grant, said “As a society we tend to hold perfectionism as a sign of virtue or high achievement. Yet our findings show that perfectionism is a largely destructive trait. Instead diligence, flexibility and perseverance are far better qualities“.
Perfectionists need to have better work-life balance and less pressurised working environments together with a greater acceptance of failure in order to mitigate the negative effects associated with perfectionism.
In the search for a better work-life balance some people are giving up their traditional jobs and building up a portfolio of part-time jobs instead.
Portfolio working was a term coined by Charles Handy back in the 1980s which has now been replaced by the “gig economy“.
With the developments in new technology and easier access to free wi-fi in coffee bars (but not to our shame in most hotels) people who were once described as Nomads were the exception. Freelance consultants or trainers in the main.
But attitudes have changed and young people, stay-at-home Mums, and those approaching retirement or who have retired i.e. not middle-aged people with a mortgage to worry about, a make up an increasing proportion of the workforce – already a third in the USA – opting to work in this way.
Uber, the taxi service, says many of its drivers have other jobs or are students (I remember when firefighters used to work as taxi-drivers among other things in their time off). Although working from home has become more popular, not everyone thinks this way including, perhaps surprisingly, Generation Y employees.
The desire for flexibility, and I would say control over the work they do, is what seems to be driving this trend. Together with the unavailability of traditional jobs for those in this segment of the economy.
The research behind this story was carried out by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills