Given that perfectionism is estimated to affect over 30% of the world’s population and proven to be increasing over time, there’s a high chance that it plays some kind of role in your business. How much it affects you or your company will depend on the size of the organization and the industry you’re in. Perfectionists are often drawn to occupations that demand precision and attention to detail, so the bigger the company and the louder the call for perfection on a daily basis, the higher the possibility that perfectionism is a silent contributor to your bottom line.
Perfectionism in the workplace presents itself in different ways. Adaptive (healthy) perfectionism can be seen in an employee’s determination to strive for flawlessness in their work, with strong work ethic, superior attention to detail, and ability to achieve more than others, perfectionistic traits that are often highly respected and valued by employers. Unfortunately, maladaptive (unhealthy) perfectionism is very different. Many perfectionists find it difficult to complete work on time and/or unable to delegate jobs or responsibilities because no-one else lives up to their high standards. Their rigid approach to systems and how a task needs to be performed can also be problematic, and they may also appear reluctant to accept criticism, however constructive.
Finding balance between adaptive and maladaptive characteristics at work is often difficult for perfectionists, and the success of this task will largely be dictated by the level of understanding they have of the subject. Sadly, most perfectionists incorrectly consider the maladaptive part of their perfectionism as something they have to put up with in order to benefit from the adaptive parts, so don’t consider education on the management of their perfection as something of value or importance. This lack of awareness and broader understanding has direct consequence to their performance, ultimately preventing them from achieving their highest levels of output and productivity and from reaching their true potential.
Companies that demand perfection on the daily should be wise to this problem. Maladaptive perfectionism has an established relationship with low self-esteem, depression and burnout, and without a thorough understanding of their perfectionism or a strategic management plan for it, perfectionistic employees are susceptible to mental and physical health issues which not only have a direct impact on their productivity, but leave you vulnerable to high staff turnover and lower profit.
Thankfully, there’s a relatively simple solution.
The key to successful management of perfectionism in the workplace is the creation of a culture that values communication and education as part of the perfectionistic employee’s journey. Much like the successful entrepreneur who understands that the balance of work and play is vital to an employee’s longevity, companies that realize perfection can only be achieved if you fully understand each part of the machine trying to attain it, are the ones who will thrive. By investing the time to encourage a better understanding of your employee’s perfectionistic thoughts and behaviors, you become well placed to discover the positive and negative aspects of their perfectionism, which leaves you favorably positioned to re-align expectations in accordance with strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunity to learn the type of communication and language that their perfectionism responds to. In doing so, you ensure that the demands for perfection in the workplace are delivered and heard in healthier ways, guaranteeing a happier, more productive workforce – one that is likely to inspire loyalty and dedication.
We can begin to create the perfect culture for perfectionists by taking these four simple steps:
Implement Moral Leadership
Perfectionists are often driven by fear in their quest for perfection, terrified of what might happen to them should they somehow not achieve what’s required of them. Leading your employees morally, encouraging them to see the value in enjoying the journey to their very best rather than simply demanding it, helps the perfectionist feel less pressure to deliver and more open to new experiences. In turn, they begin to trust that your company values the employee as much as the product they’re creating, inspiring a willingness to follow a new, less rigid, working culture.
Inspire the Growth Mindset
Psychologist Carol Dweck suggests that “a fixed mindset assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we can’t change in any meaningful way”. Sadly, many perfectionists operate with a fixed mindset as their maladaptive perfectionism likes to live within rigid and non-flexible boundaries. Shifting to a growth mindset is an integral part of a perfectionist’s overall success. Creating a culture that fosters a non-linear approach to the goal motivates the perfectionist to move away from the fixed mindset, also freeing them from limiting beliefs.
Even if it’s once a month for an hour on ‘Imperfect Monday’, setting time aside for your workforce to connect with the freedom that imperfection brings is vital to their productivity. In carrying out a set of pre-determined low-level tasks in an imperfect way, employees begin to understand the benefits of ‘less is more’ and the advantages of engaging the ‘good enough’.
Create safe space
Perfectionists are unlikely to want to open up about their experiences with perfectionism unless they feel safe to do so. They need an environment where they trust their imperfections are only discussed so as to improve on them, and that they are not being judged negatively. They will need to believe that your business has their best interest at heart and is only motivated to get to the root of their perfectionism so as to mine the greatness that lies within them.
Implementing these steps to create a better culture for your perfectionistic employees empowers them to the next level in their performance. Encouraging them to understand how their perfectionism affects them at work in a way that is non combative or confrontational allows them the space to educate themselves about perfectionism and explore how they can be better. It won’t happen overnight – perfectionists need time to trust that a new culture will help them to be better, and not threaten the high standards they know they can achieve – but once belief and trust is instilled, a huge step is taken in building a loyal workforce that performs at its very best.