There are certain traits managers should consistently look for in a job candidate, like conscientiousness, accountability, and integrity. However, researchers advise that perfectionism should not be one of them. Most managers will roll their eyes when a job candidate dutifully states that his or her biggest weakness is a tendency toward perfectionism, but what about those who declare it as their strength?
Researchers at PsychTests who analyzed the responses of 264 extreme perfectionists and 142 non-perfectionists indicate that perfectionism is more likely to be a liability than an advantage. According to data they collected using their Perfectionism Test, 66% employees who are perfectionists are more likely to miss deadlines if they don’t think a project is good enough, and 31% have consulted a professional (therapist, doctor) to help them with a stress-related problem. In terms of job performance, 46% of perfectionists were rated as “Good,” 42% as “Satisfactory,” and 12% as “Poor,” compared to 58%, 42%, and 1% respectively for non-perfectionists.
The study on perfectionistic employees also reveals that:
- 80% of perfectionists are only proud of their work if it gets praise from their boss (compared to 8% of non-perfectionists).
- 84% of perfectionists would rather work on their own than as part of a group because it’s the only way to make sure that every aspect of a project is done “right” (compared to 11% of non-perfectionists).
- 89% of perfectionists worry about what others think of them (compared to 13% of non-perfectionists).
- 72% of perfectionists believe that if even one mistake is found in their work, they will be considered incompetent (compared to 1% of non-perfectionists).
- 92% of perfectionists assume that their boss expects them to succeed on every task and project they take on, leaving them no room to fail (compared to 24% of non-perfectionists).
- For 96% of perfectionists, even just the prospect of making a mistake at work worries them (compared to 10% of non-perfectionists).
- 73% of perfectionists struggle to bounce back from failure (compared to 2% of non-perfectionists).
- When delegating, 91% of perfectionists want the task to be done without a single error (compared to 4% of non-perfectionists).
- 80% of perfectionists believe that when a group project they are working on doesn’t succeed, it’s typically due to the lack of effort of other people; they do not believe that they are personally responsible (compared to 7% of non-perfectionists).
- 76% of perfectionists get frustrated or upset when they find a mistake in someone else’s work (compared to 1% of non-perfectionists).
“What managers should be looking for, rather than perfectionism, is accountability,” explains Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “You want an employee who is willing to admit mistakes and weaknesses and wants to change, learn, and grow. Perfectionists take accountability to the extreme, and are unwilling to let go; they have trouble overcoming the fear of other people’s opinion, of making mistakes, and of failure. They’re caught in a vicious cycle where they set impossible goals and fail to live up to their expectations. They mentally beat themselves up, and then try again to do things perfectly. And it never works out.
“The worst part is, perfectionists are not just hard on themselves—they are also likely to be hard on other people. This makes them a challenge to work with and a liability. They’ll have difficulty accepting criticism and will often be unpleasant for others to work with because of their tendency to be pedantic. Managers will have their hands full with a perfectionist. It will be like handling a ticking time bomb: it won’t be long before their excessive meticulousness and perfectionism blows up in their face,” concludes Jerabek.
So how can people tame perfectionistic tendencies? Here’s what experts recommend:
- Avoid “black and white” thinking. Don’t approach a challenge or goal with an “all-or-nothing” attitude. If you only see the outcome as a success or failure you’re already sabotaging yourself. As long as you learn from your mistakes you automatically turn the outcome into a success.
- Set realistic goals. If it’s your resolution to stop world hunger in five years after you’ve climbed Mount Everest, then you’ll probably end up disappointed. These goals may sound noble, but the point is that if you set your sights too high, your fall will be harder. Set the bar high but within reach. Even if you don’t accomplish everything you set out to do, the fact that you did your best is noteworthy.
- Challenge your perfectionistic assumptions. Keep a journal of your thoughts, moods, and daily activities. Write down events that happen, how they make you feel about yourself, and how you interpret the situation. Next, consider the situation from other perspectives and write these down too. How would someone else you know interpret the situation?
- Do a little introspection. In many cases, people who point out flaws in others do so to feel better about their own shortcomings. If you realize that you feel better about yourself when you rip into someone else for messing up, then the fault may lie in you. Try working on increasing your own self-esteem rather than bringing down someone else’s.
- Train yourself to find the good in others. Learn to note and appreciate what employees or colleagues have accomplished rather than only focusing on what they didn’t do well. You can encourage others without being demanding or unreasonable (“I liked your approach to the project. The only suggestion I have is to…”). Others will appreciate your input and are more likely to be open to feedback if you make it a point to look for the good rather than just the bad.
Want to assess your propensity for perfectionism? Go to http://testyourself.psychtests.com/testid/3052