Perfectionism in the Workplace

The majority of people in the corporate world consider themselves to be perfectionists, working long and hard hours to make sure that their craft is at the highest possible level. This is usually seen as a badge of honour and a great trait for employees, especially in the legal sector, who wouldn't want an employee who works to be perfect in everything they do?

Not many people pause to think about the negative implications of being a perfectionist because all they see are the results of the endless grind that perfectionists put into their work. Now, I am of the opinion that perfectionism can be a great trait as I consider myself to be a perfectionist however, there needs to be a careful balance between healthy perfectionism and obsessive, self-destructive perfectionism.

People who aren't perfectionists will not understand why the smallest mistakes get you down, why you put what seems like all of your energy into the smallest tasks, why getting an A on your exam instead of an A* is considered a failure. You work hard to meet impossible standards set by nobody but yourself.

The self-destructive type can actually cause more harm to an employee than good. This is because, with the self-destructive type, it is obsessive, tiny mistakes can become huge problems that an employee that displays this personality type will beat themselves up over. It can eat away at you and the small mistake they made can dwell in their mind for a very long time, much longer than is healthy.

When I was working at my job at the courts, I considered myself a perfectionist even back then. However, the way I went about it definitely wasn't healthy, if I made one small mistake I would beat myself up over it for weeks on end, even if the issue had been resolved the same day! I realised that my "perfectionism" stemmed more from a fear of being classed as incompetent than actually taking pride in my work, that was when I realised I had an issue. I would study all evening after getting the train back from the office and all morning on weekends, I lost enjoyment for the job and generally speaking I was very unhappy with the way life was going and the reason for it wasn't even that big of a deal.

A friend of mine had noticed that I was always incredibly tired, even on the nights when I had gotten (by my standards) a good night's sleep. At that point, I realised I needed to make a change.

Upon joining the company I currently work for, SME Broker Services, I changed my working attitude. I still consider myself to be a perfectionist and small mistakes do still get me down but rather than letting it eat away at me, I ask myself "what should I have done differently, and what will I do next time?". This method of thinking is much more effective than being melancholic about your mistakes as it helps to improve the quality of your work and helps to make sure you don't make those mistakes that can lead to that dreaded 'snowball effect'.

In constructively criticising yourself rather than tearing yourself down, you leave yourself open to improvement which will make you feel much better within yourself than you would if you just ran over the same mistake in your head countless times.

As well as this, you will feel much happier in yourself if you can move away from your more self-destructive tendencies of dwelling on things, I don't work to be a perfectionist to avoid the label of incompetence anymore because I have realised that in my role I am more than competent. I now work hard and strive for the unrealistic goal of perfection because I want to be the best legal professional I can be for my friends, my colleagues and for myself as this will lead to greater happiness in my work life and therefore my life as a whole.

If you feel like your errors are stressing you out and causing you serious distress in the workplace then you should try and put things into perspective. Is the issue you're worried about a big issue? Is the issue going to be difficult to fix? Upon reflection are you likely to make the same mistake again? If the answer to all of these questions is no, then the likelihood is you are approaching the problem with the wrong mindset.

Be reflective, take constructive criticism (as hard as it may be), listen to the opinions of your colleagues and you will soon find that the little problems will become a lot less regular and you will find your productivity and happiness in the workplace is likely to improve.

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