Workplace Stress and Perfectionism – Insights from Psychology

By: Michelle Dean 

The workplace can often be a challenging place, full of deadlines and unspoken demands and expectations.

Add in complex office politics, external personal stressors and long commutes, and you have a recipe for workplace stress. Then, add in perfectionism and the workplace can become an overwhelming experience that feels a lot harder than it should be.

Perfectionists tend to put unrealistically high expectations or and unnecessary demands upon oneself. This can result in their work taking longer to complete, or involving additional steps.

Workplace Stress and Perfectionism

In my work as a psychologist, it is not uncommon for clients to come in experiencing workplace stress. It is also not uncommon for perfectionism in the workplace to be part of our conversations. As I explore perfectionism with my clients, they can be reluctant to shift expectations. So often perfectionism is rooted in finding a strong sense of identity in one’s work role. Or it is rooted in a strong sense of value in work ethic and quality output. Performing at work can be a way to feel good enough, or to provide a sense of meaning and purpose.

Challenging Perfectionism

Reducing perfectionistic standards can involve digging into how people find their sense of identity and worth. This can be confronting. Those that find their sense of identity or meaning from producing high quality work are even more vulnerable to experiencing stress in the workplace. If they do not achieve expectations, they may feel not good enough or useless. However, if they continue to pursue such lofty expectations, the cost they wear may be increased stress and anxiety.

Throughout my clinical experience I have become sensitive to how challenging it is to reduce lofty expectations. I am aware that it is often fear-inducing to challenge perfectionism. For example, there is the fear that lowering expectations may lead to criticism, or unnecessary attention from colleagues.

That being said, I have seen many clients benefit from the process of evaluating the pressures they place on themselves and developing greater self-compassion. Clients have come to learn that it is okay to not produce the 110% that they normally would and still find satisfaction in their work.

Whether it is perfectionism or something else that is leading to you experiencing workplace stress, it is never too late to explore how to more effectively cope in the workplace, and to seek mental health support.

Article supplied with thanks to The Centre for Effective Living.

Feature image: Photo by Corinne Kutz on Unsplash