While the desire to do one’s best is admirable, high personal expectations can sometimes become unrealistic or impossible, putting them on the path to perfectionism.

Pursuing perfectionism isn’t always bad, of course. Research has shown that individuals who always hold themselves to a high standard are engaged and thorough in work environments and motivated for success. However, there can be a point where an individual’s rigid perfectionism does more harm than it does good, and it becomes just another manifestation of anxiety.

Mental health professionals say that perfectionism can hold an individual back from career progression when they avoid tasks because of fear that the outcome won’t be perfect or if they spend inordinate amounts of time looking to perfect their work.

Consider the following four ways your perfectionist mindset is becoming toxic, which could negatively affect your mental and physical health.

1. You always reflect on the things you didn’t do, failing to consider what you’ve actually done.

You’ll never be satisfied if you cannot reflect on your accomplishments. Most perfectionists cannot accept compliments and obsess over their mistakes, putting unsustainable pressure on themselves that ultimately causes burnout. With a perfectionist mindset, you’re only thought after reaching a goal is, “What’s next?” Mental health professionals say that this behavior is unhealthy.

Burnout is the result of chronic stress in the workplace and will seriously damage your long-term health. Symptoms of burnout include headaches, fatigue, depressive symptoms, and insomnia, to name a few.

Workers need to go easy on themselves and take time to relish in their hard work once they’ve completed a task. When you practice self-awareness by celebrating your accomplishments, you not only get to reflect on your career positively but also help stave off any unhealthy perfectionist behaviors.

2. You become overly concerned about your failure or your co-workers’ failure to reach the high standards you’ve put in place.

Psychologists have identified two specific perfectionist types:

  • excellence-seeking perfectionists: Those who demand overly high standards for both themselves and others.
  • failure-avoiding perfectionists: Those who are obsessively concerned about, and have a measured aversion to, a failure to meet excessively high standards.

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that stress, anxiety, and burnout were most closely associated with failure-avoiding perfectionism. While excellence-seeking perfectionism was most closely tied to certain benefits such as engagement and motivation, the study found that perfectionism did little to improve job performance.

3. You miss deadlines because you worry that the work is not good enough.

Another sign that your professional perfectionism might be doing harm is if it prevents you from getting anything done. When you fine-tune your assignments obsessively, deadlines are pushed back because you continue to worry that it is not good enough. In some cases, you might have trouble even starting your next assignment out of a fear that it won’t meet your standards.

If this happens enough, you might become known as someone who has a habit of missing deadlines and earn a reputation for being the unreliable one in the office. If that sticks, you might find career advancement difficult. Remember, perfectionism doesn’t only lead to burnout. It can often frustrate your co-workers or your boss.

4. You won’t engage in the workplace because you worry that you’ll be labeled “less than perfect.”

Another example of your perfectionism turning harmful is when it gets in the way of your ability to engage with or truly listen to your colleagues or even loved ones because you’re worried about upholding the perfect image of yourself. Often, perfectionists avoid spending meaningful time with co-workers out of a fear that if the co-workers get to know “who they really are,” they may not like them. Perfectionists often put pressure on themselves to wear a social mask.

In addition to setting unrealistic personal standards in a work environment, experts say that many perfectionists believe that impossible standards are being forced on them either by society or those around them. There “socially prescribed” perfectionists often suffer from depression. According to mental health professionals, this specific type of perfectionism is usually combined with deep feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. In a work environment, a socially prescribed perfectionist might believe that the better they do, the better they will be expected to do.

Toxic Workplace Perfectionism Takeaways

If you are concerned that your perfectionism or excessively high standards might be hurting your career, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is my perfectionism making my life feel like it’s shrinking?
  • Is my perfectionism making me anxious, unhappy, or a shadow of the person I am?
  • Is my perfectionism creating a feeling that my world will crumble at any moment, but I continue to present a strong or different person to the outside world?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, your perfectionism is most likely doing more harm than good, and you may want to consider a recalibration of your standards.

If you feel that your perfectionism has become too overwhelming to deal with on your own, don’t be afraid to see help from a licensed therapist or mental health professional. 


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