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Rachel Pinto: Perfectionism at work....explained

Friday 30 September 2016

Rachel Pinto discusses what causes someone to want to strive for perfectionism at work and what implications does it have for the individual, their manager and the wider team?

Rachel Pinto

Rachel Pinto

Rachel is a Senior Research Officer at Acas focusing on policy research.



What causes someone to want to strive for perfectionism at work and what implications does it have for the individual, their manager and the wider team?

In search of the perfect answers to these questions, I went to an Affinity Health event last week, on perfectionism and wellbeing. Belinda Rydlings (from Clearspace Coaching) explained that one of the common drivers for this behaviour is 'imposter syndrome'. It is often associated with the following characteristics:

  • High self-confidence that disguises a real fear of being exposed as a fraud
  • A tendency to procrastinate and get anxious when mistakes are more likely to be made.
  • An inability to accept praise: nothing you do is good enough.

So, although you may be glad to have a perfectionist in your team when it comes to checking the accounts (or proofreading your blog!), the need to get everything right can be a real stressor for everyone.  

Dr Paul Flaxman from City University talked of how perfectionist tendencies can lead to burnout and poor wellbeing. Perfectionists are unlikely to switch off when they leave the office and may stew on their work more than is healthy for them.

However it's not all doom and gloom where perfectionism is concerned, there are some instances where perfectionist tendencies can be helpful.  This is particularly the case when people are driven by reward or are striving towards a particular end goal.  When a clear goal is in sight, perfectionist tendencies tend to be conscientiousness, determination and discipline. These can be positive work traits that can improve performance.

So what can a line manager do?

As a manager, it is important to recognise how your team members approach their work and work under pressure.  In doing so, you can provide the right support and ensure that staff get 'down time' from highly pressurised work tasks.

It is also good to ensure that all your staff have regular:

  • Performance reviews - working with your staff to set SMART goals and objectives can help individuals to review their progress and appreciate how well they have done.
  • Discussions or catch-ups - this is important in helping individuals open up about how they're feeling and for managers to provide perspective and reassurance where necessary.
  • Breaks away from work
    Getting perspective is something that needs to happen outside work. Leisure time should be exactly that, leisurely time to enjoy personal hobbies or pastimes without deadlines and to-do-lists. 

For information and support on developing skills for managers please see our Productivity page that looks at Skilled line managers.


  • Posted by Rachel Pinto  |  28 October 2016, 5:53PM

    Thanks for your comment Emma, and to Affinity Health for running such an interesting event. As you say, it's so important to raise awareness of how certain perfectionist tendencies can have a negative impact on a person's self-esteem and their work-life balance.

  • Posted by Emma Donaldson-Feilder  |  17 October 2016, 11:04AM

    Delighted that the Affinity Health at Work research consortium master-class generated further thinking about this topic. So important that line managers support individuals to deal with the potential downsides of perfectionism.

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