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.
“Once upon a time you could go home and work couldn’t interfere. Now you have your laptop, your phone, your tablet: you are connected. So you are always on whether you like it or not.
This is the first generation that has had to deal with the ramifications of that” said a director of AXA PPP Healthcare which supported the study. (Professor Cary Cooper spoke out about this in 2015 – as I posted here.)
As a result home has become more stressful than the office according to a recent survey. This has linked the problem of making yourself available 24/7 with cardiovascular disease.
It seems more than 50% of the 550 workers surveyed at a London-based French bank are more stressed at home than at work as they try to relax while still thinking about work.
This researchers used wrist monitors to measure changes in heart rate and the results led the researchers to believe that it’s the spikes that are dangerous. “Dealing with work while at home is pernicious to health and is directly linked to cardiovascular disease. That is now measurable and before it was not”.
Stress levels were found to be dangerously high until about 2030 when young children went to bed but some people’s levels remained high until after midnight. A smaller number of them, over 25, woke up between 0300 and 0400 and some of them even started working during that time.
The research was sponsored by an insurance company which now plans to monitor staff in high pressure jobs to see if their ability to perform has been damaged by an inability to switch off. This is likely in the next three years.
Why people still put ourselves through this when they know (or should know) the health risks is hard to fathom although there is some US research which found that some people found work less stressful than being at home.
So is it job insecurity? Addiction to work? Fear of missing out (FOMO) or being off-line (FOBO)? Whatever it’s surely time to rethink our work-life balance and stick two fingers up to the American idea of work-life merge.
It seems a life-time ago when stress management courses were de rigueur and people, including me, were making a living from them. (Now it’s either resilience training or mindfulness but that’s another story).
There was plenty of research about to back up what we were doing. The famous Whitehall studies which showed that the more senior you were the less likely you were to die early. In industry after industry it was the same story. Employees at the bottom of the hierarchy suffered more ill-health than more senior ones.
One of the factors contributing to this was the amount of control people had – over decision-making and the way they spent their working day. The more control or autonomy people felt they had, the less stressed they tended to be.
Now a recent study in the US has confirmed once again that people in stressful jobs with little control at work were more likely to die.
The research followed more than 2,000 Americans in their sixties over a seven-year period.
Those in low demand jobs reduced their death risk by 15% and those who were able to set their own goals and had flexibility at work were 34% less likely to die.
They also found that the people in the higher risk jobs were heavier. Comfort eating? Less time for exercise?
26% of those who dies were in front-line service jobs and 32% worked in manufacturing – both sectors with high demand and low autonomy.
55% of the deaths were from cancer (linked this week with high levels of anxiety and depression), and 22% from circulatory system diseases.
Erik Gonzales-Mulé at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University said employers didn’t need to reduce demand on their workers but should allow them more flexibility in how jobs were done. “You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals. set their own schedules, prioritise their decision-making and the like”.
I’m having deja vu here.This is like re-inventing the wheel. We knew all this decades ago. Remember autonomous working groups? Have American businesses forgotten about US contributions to organisational psychology and research on motivation? In America most workers still don’t get sick pay or maternity pay and have minimal holidays.
Japan has its own problems with employees working too hard (see recent post)
And we aren’t much better in some respects in the UK with the worst sick pay in the EU!
Recently experts and members of parliament have expressed concern about working conditions in call centres and on-line distribution centres. Sports Direct and Asos have been criticised for having Victorian working conditions. Some of these places are like “warehouses” on the edge of towns with no windows for natural light, just like giant container units.
Perhaps I should brush off my old notes and get back on the road again. Why do businesses never learn how to get the best out of people?
Life satisfaction for both men and women has risen for the 5th year in a row according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which started the National Wellbeing study in 2011.
Women have been consistently happier the past but the ONS now finds higher anxiety levels among women. More than 1 in 5 said they were so worried about something that it was causing them distress.
Women are known to have larger social or friendship groups then men but rather the alleviating their worries that may actually be contributing to it by giving them more people to worry about (and let’s not mention the pernicious effects of Facebook and other social media).
The experts think that the stress of combining a job with childcare and domestic chores may be taking its toll. Add to that the fact that as the population ages more women end up looking after their elderly parents.
A psychiatrist who has seen women patients struggling to juggle their responsibilities says “Equality in the workplace has undoubtedly been a very good thing but it has left women facing the more negative aspects of corporate life like high levels of alcohol consumption, stress, fewer hours to run a home and raise a family, and potentially an unhealthy diet“.
Recently men have got healthier as women adopted their bad habits at work. So while life satisfaction rose last year – aligned with the economy, earnings, job prospects, and crime levels – there was no increase in happiness or a drop in anxiety levels.
The statisticians think that last year’s general election, the EU referendum and the immigration crisis could have unsettled the public. “It’s possible that the lack of improvement in three of the four personal weep-being measures this year could be associated with the uncertainty surrounding governance, the economy and global security“.
Nevertheless people living in Northern Ireland are the happiest in the UK for the fifth consecutive year and despite years of violence during the troubles there is greater social cohesion there withy people knowing their neighbours and feeling part of the community.
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…
View original post 327 more words
Researchers from Northwestern University studied around 300 rural African-American teenagers. Those from low-income families who exhibited high levels of self-control, and were thus more likely to achieve their goals, had immune cells that were biologically much oder than their actual age.
Rapid ageing of these cells has been linked to premature death and its thought to be due to long-term high levels of stress hormone.
“To achieve upward mobility these youths must overcome multiple obstacles and often do so with limited support from their schools, peers, and families. Even if they succeed, these youths may go on to experience alienation in university and work-place settings and discrimination if they are African-American”
“Collectively these experiences seem likely to cause persistent activation of stress response systems”
Professor Greg Miller went on to say “For low-income youths, self-control may act as a double-edged sword facilitating academic success and psychological adjustment while at the same time undermining physical health”
In the research those with high self-control were able to focus better on long-term rather than short-term goals. were less depressed, used substances less frequently, and were less aggressive – regardless of their gender, family income or education
In addition those from low-income families were more likely to have the ageing immune cells.
Previous studies have shown that poorer children with better self-control were also at greater risk of heart disease because of their obesity, high blood pressure and levels of stress hormones in their blood.
The researchers add “These patterns suggest that for low-income youth resilience is a skin deep phenomenon wherein outward indicators of success can mask emerging problems with health”
They also think that providers of “character-building programmes” should include health education to help the youth mitigate health problems that stop them achieving their full potential. Low-income youths who do well in school and stay out of trouble are thought to have overcome disadvantage but it’s only half the full story it seems.
It would be interesting to know if these findings translate into other cultures and countries or whether they are only applicable to African-Americans from poor backgrounds.
- Being happily married helps women resist work-place stress whilst men dissatisfied with their jobs are more likely to flirt.
- If you’re a working mum stop worrying about it having negative effects on your kids but try not to work more than 30 hours a week.
- If you’re a stay-at-home dad then you’re probably more satisfied with your life than dads who go out to work but, like many women, miss adult conversation.
- If you are an independent women rejecting help may make people believe you are competent but cold, and vice versa. Not so for men.
- In a mixed group women cooperate more than men but men are more cooperative than women when working in a single sex group.
But men and women do have one thing in common: taking work home – whether mentally or physically – can depress you and make you feel tired.
A study at UCLA, published in 2008 in Health Psychology, showed that happily married working women rebounded quicker from daily stress than women in less happy relationships.
Men showed lower stress levels as the day progressed – as measured by levels of cortisol in their saliva – whether happily married or not. So while marriage is often seen as good for men’s health it may come at a price for women in unhappy relationships.
But there is good news for working mums. Research at the University of Bath, published this year, shows that working mothers are significantly less likely to suffer from depression whether part-time or full-time and regardless of salary level: single mums 15% less likely and mums in a partnership 6% less likely.
The researchers said there seems to be little evidence to link stress at work to depression. Women going back to work showed a 26% drop in mental health problems compared to an increase of 25% for women giving up work. And the same results have been found in a 10-year study in America where working mums also report fewer symptoms of depression than mums who don’t work. Working part-time was the healthiest option of all.
We have known for decades that unemployment was bad for men and now the same applies to women. Work gives you a sense of identity and boosts your self-esteem which impacts on your well-being.
And there’s no evidence that babies suffer when their mums work. Past research found that returning to work early resulted in children who are slower learners and UNICEF recommended in 2008 that women stay at home for the first 12 months rather than put their children at risk.
But the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Study of Early Child Care followed 1,000 children over 7 years tracking their families and their development. The research published by the Society for Research in Child Development in 2010 showed that overall the net impact was neutral: the advantages of more income and better child care offset any downsides of the mums returning to work. Again part-time working of up to 30 hours a week offered better outcomes than full-time working.
But women don’t have it all their own way at work. When it comes to “benevolent sexism” a study reported in the European Journal of Social Psychology (2012) showed that women couldn’t win. If they accept someone’s offer of help, for example opening a door for them or helping with a computer problem, they are seen as warmer but less competent; if they reject help they are seen as competent but cold.
And the same researchers found that accepting help meant that women were judged less suitable for managerial jobs while rejecting help led to their being judged less suitable for care jobs that relied on emotional skills.
For men the results were different. Rejecting offers of help led to them being judged as competent but not less warm. And it seems men are judged both competent and warmer when they offer help which is accepted.
It seem that independent women are seen as competent but cold mainly by people who believe in benevolent sexism and who adopt paternalistic attitudes.
A review by Balliet of 50 years of research discovered that men are actually more cooperative than women. And they are more likely to help strangers and be cooperative in large groups, whereas women are seen as more supportive and agreeable.
Perhaps surprisingly men are more cooperative in single sex groups than women but in mixed sex groups women are more cooperative.
It seems that when men and women are working together they resort to stereotypical behaviours because of the presence of the opposite sex. Perhaps men like to show women how dominant they are which reduces cooperation.
And sexist men earn more, at least in the USA. Research at Florida University (published in the Journal of Applied Psychology) showed that men with traditional attitudes earned substantially more than their egalitarian colleagues whereas for women it was the other way round – although not such a big salary difference.
Over a 25-year period the traditionally-minded men earned an average of $8,459 more annually than egalitarian-minded men and $11,374 on average more than traditionally-minded women. The gap between egalitarian men and women was much less at $1,330.
The differences occurred regardless of education, type of job, family commitments or hours worked and the researchers aren’t really sure why. They surmise it might be unconscious bias.
Talking of egalitarian men, it seems that “stay at home” dads do better in terms of life, marital, and job satisfaction, than dads who work outside the home, according to research reported at the American Psychological Association‘s 2007 Annual Convention.
Men were staying at home for a number of reasons including deferring to their wives’ higher earnings potential and wanted to be more involved in bringing up their children. Being a full-time dad did have some stigmas attached and they also reported missing the adult work-place interactions (something often mentioned by women when they decide to return to work).
Finally one thing that applies to everybody: taking work home, whether mentally or physically, can make you feel depressed and tired.
Researchers at the University of Konstanz found that the greater people’s workload and work hours the harder it was to detach themselves from work. Workers experiencing high work demands need more recovery time but are less likely to get it because of their work habits and not having time to switch off.
Those workers with hobbies or who engaged in physical activity reported feeling less tired and more engaged. But the researchers also point out that thinking about work can be a mood booster as well if people are reflecting on their successes and accomplishments.
But let’s give the final words to women. There is evidence that while women can contribute a lot to teams they don’t always perform at their best in them. They are also more critical of organisations.
And there are people who believe that women are the winners at work anyway!
Alas the fear of losing your job makes people attend work more diligently (even when they shouldn’t) and the resulting “presenteeism” masks rising levels of mental health problems.
The Engineering Employers Federation (which I used to know well as at one time I was their stress management expert in the North West) surveyed 350 companies involving 90,000 workers. They found that only 1 in 10 companies provided training for managers on mental health issues. So they found a market for it – if companies were really interested.
Two fifths of the companies said long-term absence rates were increasing even though absence overall was low at 2.2% i.e. 5 days per employee a year on average. In fact half of the workers never took any time off sick.
Back problems (musculo-skeletal) are still the main cause of long-term absence overall but for a quarter of the companies stress and mental health disorders were the main cause.
These are still considered the most difficult to deal with in adjusting work to meet the employees’ needs.
The EEF’s Chief Medical Adviser says GPs should be given the tools to deal with stress and mental health issues in the same way they deal with other medical problems.
What about companies taking more interest in their employees’ wellbeing and making an effort to combat the causes of work-based stress?
We don’t want to go the way of America where stress is considered the norm and work-life balance is now work-life merge (thanks largely to high flying female executives).
See other posts