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5 Reasons Why You Need to Stop Being a Perfectionist at Work

by Kevin Jarvis
Posted: December 22, 2016

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Is perfectionism a productive personality trait for your career, or is it holding you back? If you’re at a stage of your professional life where you really want to make an impact, it might be time to examine how you pursue success and what tweaks you might make to your approach to your work and personal projects.

The word “perfectionist” might have positive or not-so-positive connotations for some people. Perfectionists are known to ‘get the job done’, they are highly motivated and often take full ownership of their projects. However, in some cases, others might find them a little too rigid in their approach. 

According to Kevin Jarvis, Director at recruitment specialist Robert Half, self-proclaimed perfectionists often go above and beyond to do an exceptional job but they need to be aware of remaining flexible and accessible to really succeed. 

“Being a perfectionist in the workplace today can be revered or feared in equal measure. While perfectionists demonstrate an exceptional commitment to their work, their idealist approach might, from time to time, come across as overly rigid in a working environment where collaboration and adaptability are more important habits.”

There are ways to seize the helpful aspects of being a perfectionist to make this trait work for your career. Here are five key things you should know about being a perfectionist in today’s workplace and how and why you might benefit from being more flexible with the way you work.

1.    While you strive to get the job done perfectly, you need to leave room to learn from mistakes.

Stop being a perfectionist and champion flexible teamwork

Being a perfectionist in the workplace has its pros. You get the job done perfectly…every time.  You never miss deadlines, your colleagues, managers and clients always have positive things to say about you, and you won’t tolerate even the smallest of errors. 

However, mistakes often form a critical part of learning, developing and improving, both personally and professionally at work. Understanding the value of learning from mistakes for the betterment of future work can easily be forgotten if you are solely focused on being a perfectionist.

2.    You know your daily work and projects intimately, but you also need to keep the big picture in mind.

As a perfectionist, you’re fascinated with the details. You know how every moving part of a project fits together. Think about that technical redesign of your company’s website - you’ve been influential from ideation, played a critical role in the briefing process, been present at every meeting and you know the intimate details of every technical component. 

But beneath all the polished details, did you see the bigger picture? Have you considered how building a website fits into other IT projects? Have you recognised that the messaging and branding component will be led by the marketing team?

And have you planned for two months of customer service training so everyone can get familiar with the new website? These are all bigger picture considerations that you could miss if you’re only paying attention to the finer details.

3.    You have extremely high standards, but those standards should be realistic for everyone.

Being a perfectionist at work isn't as awesme as teamwork and high fives

Aiming high is a quality that can and should be called out in your resume, expressed in job interviews, and done consistently on the job. No matter what you’re working on, as a perfectionist you see the potential for it to be extraordinary.

You consistently go above and beyond until the project is the best it can be. You also expect the same from your colleagues and stakeholders, setting the bar high and forever shooting for the stars. 

But what if your standards are too high that they're unachievable? Your sense of accomplishment or success might waiver if you or your colleagues are unable to achieve your high ambitions. Unrealistic goals can also make colleagues feel isolated and frustrated, causing stress and complicating projects in the long run.

4.    Although you want to be a perfectionist in every workplace, remember that in some industries it can be counter-productive.

Accountants, pilots and financial advisors are roles in which being a perfectionist is neither a compliment nor an insult, but rather a basic requirement of the role. These jobs rely on exact measurements and precise decision-making for the greatest profit, elimination of risk and to ensure the safety and wellbeing of customers. 

Other roles, such as those in the creative industries - think copywriters, artists and designers - may feel that perfectionism is restrictive and unrealistic, and rely more on freedom of boundaries and the absence of precision to achieve the most creative result.

5.    You want to be known as a perfectionist, but without context, this label can be misperceived.

Being a perfectionist is neither good nor bad exclusively, but if you want to share your excellence and accomplishments with others, it’s best to provide context. 

For example, if you want everyone to know that you’re thorough with your writing and editing skills, or that the accounts you manage always balance perfectly, then use these real-life examples to paint a complete picture of you and your exemplary work. 

While ‘perfectionist’ is a term met with mixed emotions, it’s important to realise that you don’t have to strive to be a perfectionist in today’s workplace. The perfect solution to a problem or project is not always the most effective one, and in some cases, it can even overlook negative impacts. 

In today’s modern workplace, it pays greater dividends to be flexible and collaborative while maintaining a keen attention to detail.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, check out our Personal Branding Guide to develop and strengthen your personal brand. Or download your free personal copy, below.


Kevin Jarvis

Kevin has over 17 years of finance, accounting and project recruitment experience. Kevin led the start-up of the first Robert Half Technology business in Australia and was promoted to Director in 2009.

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