Why it’s time to drop the ball on perfectionism at work

Some degree of perfectionism may bring results, but it is important to foster a work culture that values progress instead. (iStockphoto)
Some degree of perfectionism may bring results, but it is important to foster a work culture that values progress instead. (iStockphoto)


Employees who take on work beyond their job roles are glorified. But this impacts one’s well-being and productivity

Practice makes a man perfect—that’s the mantra Mumbai’s Preeti Kukreja has lived by since she passed out of college in 2011. But she insists, over the years, her desire for “perfectionism" has only brought down her productivity. “To be honest, my obsession with perfectionism has caused delays in my delivery," says the 34-year-old who works in an advertising agency. “I want to put my best foot forward because of which I end up staying long hours at work even over the weekend. I check my work a million times before submitting it to my manager. In advertising, pushing out campaigns quickly is key. I constantly question myself and take longer than I should." 

Our society hinges on the culture of perfectionism, with the education system giving preferential treatment to those with high grades. At work, those who strive to take on more work beyond their job roles are glorified. Perfectionism stems from the cultural and societal internationalisation of the fear of failure, says Delhi-based Akanksha Chandele, a trauma-informed counselling psychologist and founder of I Am Wellbeing, an organization dedicated to trauma healing and prevention. “People cling to perfectionism because they don’t know any other way of living. Whether a child is scolded for getting lower grades or rewarded excessively for scoring well, the message that is passed on is that getting good grades will bring acceptance and love," she says. “The child grows up to be the adult in the corporate world who strives to achieve that same level of acceptance and eventually becomes the employer who rewards the same excellence."

Kolkata’s Parth Chatterjee, 37, who works as a sales lead in a multinational, has frequent bouts of anxiety, especially after he submits any task to his boss. The fear that his mistakes may bring down his credibility in the company has been giving him sleepless nights. “I have no one else to blame but myself. If I make an error, I go to extreme lengths to question myself—it’s almost as if I fear losing my job," he says. “I have had multiple chats with my manager, who has largely been supportive, but it’s people who are workaholics who get the highest incentives. They are the ones who eventually get rewarded." 

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While perfectionism has been idolized, it is a beguiling trap, particularly in the corporate world, says Dr Mamta Mohapatra, professor and head of organizational behaviour area at the International Management Institute in Delhi. “For employees, this pursuit can be mentally taxing as the relentless quest for the unattainable breeds stress, anxiety, and a detrimental impact on well-being. The incessant pressure to deliver perfect work can erode job satisfaction and self-worth, leading to burnout," she says. 

While some degree of perfectionism may bring results, it is important for employees to foster a work culture that values progress over perfection. 

“There’s no denying that perfectionism ostensibly sets the stage for excellence— perfectionism, when positioned as an ideal goal, overlooks the importance of timeliness, creating an imbalance where deadlines are frequently not met due to an exaggerated emphasis on detail," she says. That’s why employers need to recognize the detrimental effects that the pursuit of perfectionism has on employee well-being and productivity. 

“Excessive pursuit of perfection can hinder productivity, elevate stress, and hamper innovation," says Piyali Bandopadhyay, people experience and operations manager at US-based Progress, an infrastructure software company, with offices in Hyderabad, Bengaluru and New Delhi. “By setting realistic goals, fostering open communication, and providing feedback, companies are encouraging employees to prioritise growth and development over immaculate outcomes."

Work can be inherently associated with an individual’s identity and self-worth. To help deal with this, it’s essential to acknowledge not just the wins but also everyday tasks and challenges, advises Chandele. At the same time, employees at all levels need to reflect on their emotions. She says, “Be a witness to yourself, your struggles and achievements and also to those around you. Acknowledge the efforts of each individual while making them feel seen because, at the end of the day, we all just want a witness, to our pains or our joys."

Employers, too, can adopt certain strategies that promote a balanced approach that encourages good work while supporting employees’ well-being, creativity, and growth, mentions Hyderabad-based Gunjandeep Kaur, director (human resources) business partner at Model N, a US-based cloud-based platform offering revenue management solutions for high-tech and life sciences industries. “Encouraging employees to embrace a growth mindset where they see challenges as opportunities for growth and learning rather than fixed limitations is crucial," she says. 

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They can also enforce practical measures like offering constructive feedback and valuing effort over results to help move focus from perfection to progress. “Utilizing project management tools that provide real-time feedback can help employees adjust their work promptly and avoid the last-minute rush to perfect a project," recommends Dr Mohapatra.

Besides, employers must set realistic expectations for tasks and projects apart from encouraging open communication. 

“Today’s employer is yesterday’s employee and today’s employee is tomorrow’s employer. It starts with the identification of one’s ideologies. Bring in curiosity about what can be done differently. Slow implementation with regular check-ins with self and others goes a long way," says Chandele. 

Geetika Sachdev is a Delhi-based journalist.

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