Perfectionism: Impossible Dream

Perfectionism may be hurting you in more ways than you think. Ultimately, productivity suffers.

By PT Staff, published on May 1, 1995 - last reviewed on April 18, 2008

Practice may make perfect, but perfectionism makes for reduced job
performance, depression, and illness—not to mention alienated

So reports psychologist J. Clayton Lafferty, Ph.D., who looked at
the lifestyles and personalities of 9,211 managers and professionals. His
conclusion: Striving for perfection is likely to harm employees and
companies alike.

"Perfectionism has nothing to do with actually trying to perfect
anything." Lafferty says. "It is about illusion, the desire to look
good." Because they equate their self-worth with flawless performance,
perfectionists often get hung up on meaningless details and spend more
time on projects than is necessary. Ultimately, productivity

Another problem is that perfectionists may cover up errors in an
attempt to maintain a superhuman image. That's why, contrary to
expectations, perfectionists are ill-suited to working in risky
environments like nuclear reactors or high-tech fighter planes, where
mistakes must be shared at once to avoid catastrophe. Indeed, a study of
pilots found that accidents and perfectionism often go

Disaster can also ensue when perfectionism pervades corporate
culture. "The ability to make the distinction between what is achievable
and what isn't is highly associated with business effectiveness." says
Lafferty, of Human Synergistics International, a Michigan consulting
firm. He cites one major company that nearly engineered its own demise by
setting sales goals so high that it failed to meet them for 16
consecutive years.

While working under such conditions takes its toll on employees, it
is the perfectionists themselves who suffer most from their compulsions.
Their self-induced stress leads to a cornucopia of health problems, from
headaches and chest pains to depression and impotence. "Achievement acts
as an insulation against physical illness," notes Lafferty, "while
perfectionism seems almost to conduct it."