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.
Back in the day, introducing open plan offices (bureaulandschaft), I found those habits seemed even more common when people had to adapt to pen plan offices (I even saw people growing tomatoes), as if they were trying to personalise their space and regain some control over their environment.
These days you’re lucky to have a desk and the work environment is more likely to be stripped down, and minimalist – perhaps barring the odd motivational poster.
Now researchers at Exeter University have confirmed yet again that having greenery around boosts productivity.
“Plants not only boosted intellectual performance but also improved job satisfaction and sense of well-being” says psychologist Craig Knight who led the research.
The research was carried out in three companies in Finland.
Workers were asked to work in a bleak stripped down office doing various challenging tasks and their performance measured. Then one group was left to carry on in that space whilst another could choose plants to put around their desk. A third group had their offices “greened” with foliage provided by a Finnish firm called Naturvention which had sponsored the study.
The researchers found that even a few plants had as strong an effect as organised displays. What people appreciated was the chance to control their environment – a point I made earlier.
Knight said “there is a fashion for minimalist, monochrome styling which pleases managers because it gives them a sense of control. But in reality it crushes the human spirit and we can now measure that. Adding plants makes people happier and productive – but the real benefit comes from giving them autonomy“.
I’ve posted previously on the beneficial effects of greenery in our environment and how it helps reduce street and improve productivity and here’s more proof.
So not sure what the sponsor made of the results but here they are promoting their Naava walls.
It found that the more over-50s a company employed the less likely it was to increase productivity over a two-year period. Even a 1% increase in the proportion of older staff led to a greater chance that the company would stand still rather than improve its output.
The situation was much worse in Germany than Britain. There 57% of the companies had workforces with at least 20% of the staff over 50, compared to 41% in the UK.
Productivity was not reduced by older workers working more slowly but by the company’s reluctance to invest in training them.
The less successful companies also had weaker appraisal systems meaning that individuals were not held accountable for their productivity levels. Well appraisal systems have come in for a lot of criticism lately and in this case it suggests that it might be management not doing their job rather than the workers.
Certainly there are companies, such as BMW, that look after older workers better.
And they need to because there are more older workers around. Three quarters of people aged over 50 are in employment in the UK according to the ONS compared with two-thirds in 1994. And one in eight aged over 65 is still in work.
Discriminating against older workers is counter-productive. Often older workers have the unwritten knowledge about the company; their attendance is usually better, and they generally have a more positive attitude and are more loyal. Here’s an American take on this.
Performance reviews are held to be a product of Theory X thinking (and all that went with that) and were famously criticised by quality guru Deming who said “The fact is that the system that people work in and the interaction with people may account for 90 or 95 percent of performance”
New research from CEB (reported in People Management) suggests that HR people are in agreement. Only 4% of them felt that performance reviews were effective.
And 42% of the 9,000 managers and employees surveyed across 18 countries said that “significant changes or a complete redesign was needed to improve their existing performance review processes” which were branded ‘backward-looking, inconsistent, and too complex‘.
There is a problem however. Ditching performance reviews can have a negative effect on productivity as Microsoft found. The survey also found that not only did productivity drop by 10% but that employees were more likely to leave and fewer employees thought pay rises were fairly allocated.
Less than 5% of managers said they felt able to manage effectively without a rating system.
The survey doesn’t say what was used to replace performance reviews but poor as performance review methods might be it appears that many staff and managers like a degree of structure no matter how unreliable.
ZZZen, the first to offer stressed workers a midday nap, charges €12 for a 15-minute micro-siesta and €27 for a 45-minute royal siesta.
A French TV programme, Envoyé Spécial, recently reported that a third of French managers had fallen asleep in meetings and that the nation could benefit from a lunchtime siesta. “Well-being and productivity would benefit if all executives followed this example“.
Le Monde then published an article saying that a siesta reduced stress and dimished sensitivity to pain.
Surprisingly perhaps 17% of French HR Managers thought it was OK for employees to sleep at work and welcomed the development. I’d like to run that by HR managers in the UK!
La sieste is a long-standing French tradition and not restricted, as I thought to Spain and Portugal. Workers used to take…
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Now I’m not against workers having break and have said so in the past. But three hours a day is ridiculous which means only half of each working day is productive. So on average British workers only work effectively for 4.5 hours a day. That equals 28 lost working days year. No wonder UK productivity is lamentable.
Overall three-quarters of British workers admit they spend far too much time procrastinating rather than actually working.
The worst offenders are people with their own offices and younger employees aged 18-24 who put in less than 4 hours a day compared to over 5 hours for 35-44 year-olds, the most productive group.
People working in teams were more productive putting in an hour more than people working alone who only worked for 4 hours and 18 minutes on average. Presumably that’s because of peer pressure.
Glasgow is the hardest working location with Sheffield the least productive.
Last week a Swedish technology firm reduced working hours to 6 hours a day claiming it was more effective and Gothenburg City Council is experimenting with a six-hour day also.
The idea of shortening the working day has been tried in many countries but not always with positive results. Even in Sweden. Kiruna district council adopted a 6-hour day for sixteen years but has opted to return to a longer day.
Not all these experiments have been evaluated properly. In some countries e.g. France it’s claimed that as productivity increased so did sickness absence.
Back in the day Sweden was in the forefront of introducing new working methods in its car industry – again with mixed results. People were happier but not necessarily more productive.
They produced 20% less per hour than other members of the G7 countries (advanced economies) and had the worst results since records began in 1991 according to the National Statistics Office (NSO).
The Governor of the Bank of England describes productivity as “the ultimate determinant of people’s incomes and with it the capacity of our economy to support health, wealth, and happiness”
Britain has fallen behind since the financial crisis with Germany, France and the USA all producing a third more last year. Italy produced 10% more and Canada 4% more. Only Japan produced less.
The TUC is worried that “Without a step change in productive growth, the UK economy will struggle to deliver secure jobs and higher living standards”
There are signs that productivity is slowly increasing and unemployment here is lower than some EU countries. What the report doesn’t mention is the grey economy which our neighbours across the channel say is what attracts immigrants to our shores. If that work was factored in would it make a difference?
Hard to tell but with stress on the increase again and employee engagement figures well below 50% it’s hard to see how companies can encourage employees to work harder. After all that’s what productivity is; getting more out of workers for the same or fewer hours worked.
These devices can measure the number of steps taken, distance travelled, calories burned, steps climbed and sleep levels.
Apparently more than 5 million Brits own such devices made by companies such as Fitbit, Nike, and Garmin.
An insurance company, Vitality, claims that monitoring your activity through the use of such bracelets or smartphones can help reduce sickness absence by 25%.
It’s becoming increasingly common in the USA and the UK for companies to offer staff such devices as employers recognise the benefits of a healthy workforce.
A spokesperson for Fitbit said “Fitbits help people to become more active, track their sleep and manage their weight. This makes people healthier and therefore more alert and active at work. Less sick days is a logical consequence of that“.
He said staff are allowed to choose whether or not their employer can see their individual data or have it aggregated. Some companies are said to offer incentives and encourage competition between departments.
Sickness absence is a major problem in the UK and any efforts to improve the health of employees is to be welcomed. Their is only so much employers can do however.
When I was HR Director of a large NHS Trust we introduced No Smoking policies, Healthy Eating options, Stress Management programmes, a staff counselling service, provided a gym, a physiotherapist and yoga classes. We also had an occupational health service and offered air miles to people who didn’t take time off work through sickness.
Results were mixed. The bottom line is employers can do little to influence staff behaviour and life-styles outside work.
Fed up of that stressful commute to work or having a bad day at the office?
Avoid all that by working from home. It’s the new status symbol – according to the Office of National Statistics.
1 in 7 of us now work from home ie 4.2 million people of which 1.5 million actually work there with the others using home as a base while working in different places.
Three-quarters of home-based workers are classed as higher skilled compared to one half of office-based workers.
So working from one seems to be restricted to high-flyers; 1/7 are managers or senior officials, 1/3 are professionals, and 1/4 are from high-skilled trades.
Median earnings for home-workers are £13.23 an hour compared to £10.50 for other workers. A third work for other people or companies with two-thirds are self-employed and the older the worker the more likely are they to work from home.
The age difference might be due to seniority or the fact that older workers made redundant find it more difficult to get jobs and often end up working for themselves.
There are regional differences with home-based working more popular in the south-west and far less common in the north.
Better technology has made working from home more cost-effective although many bosses still don’t trust staff who work from home even though there is evidence that they put in more hours and can be more productive.
Deloitte has introduced an “agile working programme” and is inviting its 12,000 UK employees to apply to work from home or in other flexible ways. They think it will attract and retain female staff but also improve working lives generally.
Not everyone agrees. Marissa Mayer banned Yahoo! staff from working from home when she became Chief Executive.
She said “some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussion, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo! and that starts with being physically together“.
Easy for her to say and not doing women any favours when she built a crèche for her baby next to her office.