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Shocking Ways Being a Perfectionist is Stopping You from Growing at Work (and What to do About it)

Are you a high achiever or a perfectionist at work? Perfectionism can motivate or break you career-wise. So, where do you fall? Let’s dive in!

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Are you a high achiever or a perfectionist at work? Perfectionism can motivate or break you career-wise. So, where do you fall? Let’s dive in!

Photo credit: nakaridore

How do you know that you are a perfectionist at work? Well, a perfectionist is someone who feels the need to always be flawless in everything they do. They have a constant desire to control situations and tend to be very critical of themselves and others. They concentrate on the imperfections and mistakes that are made within the workplace.

If you are wondering whether you are a perfectionist, let me help you figure that out.

Are you a perfectionist or a high achiever?

Don’t get me wrong. Wanting to be the best version of yourself is a good trait. However, perfectionists tend to exaggerate this. They want to be flawless and the best at everything they do at all times. This mental state is brought about by social media pressure, academic competition, upbringing, or societal pressures. Perfectionism causes more harm since you tend to have very unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. Additionally, your stress levels will be higher than the average person.

 There are three categories of perfectionism, namely:


  1. Self-oriented - This perfectionist will desire to be flawless in everything they do and will try to control and manipulate everything and everyone to achieve perfection.

  2. Other-oriented - Everyone else will be held to a higher standard of perfection.

  3. Socially-oriented - Unlike the other categories, this category of perfection comes from society. The perfectionist will feel pressured to be perfect because they think that other people expect them to be. 


Character traits of a perfectionist at work


  • You are very critical

When it comes to mistakes and flaws, perfectionists at work have tunnel vision. To them, perfectionism is the only acceptable way and anything less is a failure. For example, you will tend to focus on the imperfections of your co-workers and be hard on yourself and others when it comes to failure.

  • Driven by fear

What pulls you towards your goals? Is it desire or fear? Well, if your answer is fear, you might want to grab a pen and notebook as you keep reading. If not reaching your goal is the worst-case scenario then you are ticking all the boxes of being a perfectionist at work. Since they concentrate on the results rather than the process, fear of failing becomes part of them.

  • Procrastination

It might seem absurd but perfectionists tend to procrastinate - A LOT. If you fear failing, you will be in a constant state of worry. This worry will paralyze you because you will not want to do something and fail at it. This creates a vicious cycle that really affects productivity.

  • Unrealistic standards

If your goals are unreasonably high, you will experience frustration, anger, worthlessness, low self-esteem, and other mental health issues. You will find it hard to enjoy the journey to achieving your goals. Well, think about it - are your goals out of reach?

  • Defensive

How does constructive criticism in the workplace affect you? Do you become defensive or are you open to receiving it and improving? Defensiveness is a strong trait of a perfectionist at work. They don’t take the criticism as valuable information, instead, they view it as a personal attack.


The danger of being a perfectionist at work

If you have any of the traits listed above, you need to understand that perfectionism will harm you more than it will help. It is a vicious cycle of unproductivity, stress, low self-esteem,  and procrastination. It will limit your career and make you achieve less as a perfectionist at work. 

Effect of perfectionism on employees


  • Procrastination of tasks in the workplace. Your fear of failure will keep you from starting tasks at work.

  • Struggling with time management. Once you fight the urge to procrastinate, you will want to produce perfect results. Most of your time will be spent on researching, polishing, improving, and perfecting presentations, making it harder for you to meet deadlines.

  • Poor well-being and health. Since you are in a constant state of worry and stress, you will have poor sleep patterns. Additionally, the stress will affect your mental and physical health making you prone to illness and mental health issues. Then, if you perform poorly after putting in all that time and work, you will feel depressed and anxious when another task is assigned to you.

  • Lack of growth. Receiving constructive or negative criticism in the workplace is an opportunity for growth.

  • Poor productivity. The stress and anxiety will take a toll on you making it hard for you to achieve anything or meet your goals. 

Effects of perfectionism on managers


  • Negative reputation. Being a perfectionist at work will affect your reputation and make you seem unstable. No one wants to work with an unstable manager. Besides, a bad reputation will affect your relationships with your peers at work and eventually your ability to perform. Your team will brand you the “difficult boss”.
  • Unreliability. The episodes of procrastination will make you unreliable and no one will want to partner with you when doing projects.
  • Misuse of resources. Flawlessness requires a lot of time, attention, and resources. You will struggle with budget allocation and suffer the negative reputation that comes with this.
  • Time wasting. Anxiety and perfectionism go hand-in-hand. Your mind will come up with different negative scenarios and you will do everything within your power to prepare for all these negative scenarios. This will result in you pressuring your team to meet the deadline or missing the deadline completely.
  • Poor mental and physical health. It's a downward spiral for a perfectionist at work because the constant stress will affect performance and efficiency. The constant disappointment will keep adding to the stress.

So, how exactly can you break the cycle?


7 ways of overcoming perfectionism

1. Be aware of your traits - Pay attention to your behavior and your thoughts. Afterward, try writing them down every time you notice. Being aware is the first step to finding a solution that works for you.

2. Allow yourself to make mistakes - You need to alter your thoughts and see that the world doesn’t end when you fail or make a mistake. Look at it as a teachable moment that you can use to learn and grow.

3. Focus on the positive aspects - Being a perfectionist at work makes you focus on the negative things. Strive to see the positive aspects too. Challenge yourself to counter every negative thought with a positive one.

4. Learn how to receive negative feedback - This is a low self-esteem issue that makes perfectionists at work take negative feedback personally. Constructive criticism is a stepping stone to growth. It helps you know what aspects of your work are limiting your growth and allows you to do better or correct your mistakes.

5. Set attainable goals - Step away from the high standards and be more reasonable when setting your goals. A good way to do this is by separating your goals into long and short-term goals. Short-term goals must be easy to achieve and must lead to you achieving a long-term goal. As you achieve your short-term goals, you will feel more motivated and confident in your journey. Alternatively, you can get a career coach to help you attain your career goals.

6. Stop procrastinating - It’s true that the hard part is starting a project but there is no RIGHT TIME to do something. Just do it! Don’t give in to your excuses for slacking off or delaying the project. Fight the fear and just start. 

7. Be kind to yourself - Pressuring yourself will affect the quality of your work and health. Stop setting unrealistic standards for yourself and acknowledge that you are trying your best. Perfection does not exist.



There is a big difference between a high achiever and a perfectionist. Indeed, both of them want to succeed but they are motivated by very different things. A high achiever is motivated to be their best and a perfectionist is motivated by their fear of failure. Which one are you?

Written by

Lilian Nerima Musonge

Nerima Musonge is a Lawyer who is passionate about Content Creation and Copywriting. She is constantly trying to broaden her artistic pursuits and find out how they can integrate with the law. When she is not squinting behind a laptop, she is mothering, cracking jokes, and living her best life

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