Perfectionists, heal thyself. Your excellence-chasing isn’t helping your performance in the workplace.

Harvard Business Review went through four decades of studies on perfectionism — encompassing almost 25,000 people — in order to find an answer to this question: “Are perfectionists better performers at work?”

perfectionism at work

The answer was no. In fact, perfectionism, they found, was a significantly bigger weakness at work than people thought. There are still positives about perfectionists: They strive to produce the highest level of work, put in longer hours, and tend to be more motivated and engaged. However, perfectionism also comes with a boatload of negatives. Perfectionists have a higher likelihood to be inflexible, set unreasonably high standards, posses an overly critical self-assessment of themselves, take a black-and-white view about their performance, and have a tendency to tie their self worth to their performance. Moreover, they also have “higher levels of stress, burnout, and anxiety,” according to studies.

There are two types of perfectionists, identified by research. Excellence-seeking perfectionists demand high standards not only for themselves but also for the people around them. Those with this type tend to get more of the positive effects of perfectionism. Failure-avoiding perfectionists, on the other hands, are more motivated by the idea that they are not good enough and that they will lose face if they aren’t perfect. Those types tend to inherit more of the negative aspects of perfectionism. Of course, the two types can overlap in one person.

Most interestingly, however, the researchers found the “results showed that performance and perfectionism were not related to each other — perfectionists are not better or worse performers than non-perfectionists. Even employees high in excellence-seeking perfectionism were not better performers.” There was no specific reason identified; it could be that perfectionists labor over certain tasks at the expense of other projects, or the negative effects of perfectionism outweigh the positive ones.

So feel free to chill out and let things go a little; it won’t hurt your work, but it can help your overall well-being.

This post was previously published by Sheila McClear on

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