6 Ways Being A Perfectionist Is Hurting Your Career

6 Ways Being A Perfectionist Is Hurting Your Career

If you’re a perfectionist, you probably wear your badge proudly. Your attention to detail and insistence on every detail being just right has likely helped you succeed in your work and industry.

Being a perfectionist, however, isn’t always ideal. Rather than carry you toward success, it can cause you to be stubborn and difficult to work with—traits that should never be associated with someone growing in their career.

It’s only when you understand the ways this perfectionism can hinder your career, that you’re able to harness the trait in a way that works for you, not against you. Here are six ways being a perfectionist can hurt your career and how to overcome them.

1. It’s Your Way or the Highway

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How it hurts your career: You’re hard to work with.

You want everything done a certain way, or more accurately, your way, which is problematic when working with others. Everyone works differently and just because it’s different from your method, does not mean it’s wrong. “People are different,” writes Kat Boogaard from The Muse.

She continues: “Just because you’re infatuated with the idea of perfection doesn’t necessarily mean everybody else is. And—let’s face it—most perfectionists also end up being complete control freaks. They not only expect flawlessness from themselves, but from everyone else around them as well.”

This rigid attitude can make you hard to work for if you’re in a leadership role, or an unpopular co-worker if you’re part of a team. Growing in your career will be hard if no one wants to promote or work with you because it’s always a challenge.

2. You Don’t Want to Be Second-Best—Ever

(Image: Second Place Silver Medal)

How it hurts your career: You hold yourself back

As a perfectionist, you make it a point to avoid anything you’re not good at. If you’re not the star player, you don’t even want to be on the team. The desire to be the best can be motivating, but this same fear of failure, which was found to affect 31 percent of respondents in a 2016 poll, can hinder you from taking risks and making yourself vulnerable; both of which are critical for growing in your career.

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If you’re feeling stagnant in your career, fear of failure may be the culprit. Find ways to make yourself more vulnerable at least once a week, whether you take on a challenging project or share your opinion in a meeting.

3a: You Don’t Delegate (Leaders)

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How it hurts your career: Leaders make employees feel less-than and don’t spend enough time on high-level projects and issues.

Because you’re particular about how things are done, you have a hard time delegating tasks to your team. Not only does this force you to spend time on small, less important projects, it sends a message to your team that you don’t value their work.

“There are plenty of reasons why managers don’t delegate,” according to Amy Gallo from Harvard Business Review. “Some are perfectionists who feel it’s easier to do everything themselves, or that their work is better than others’.”

As a perfectionist leader, it’s important to recognize this and delegate whenever possible. Use it as a way to recognize employees’ strengths while giving yourself more time to focus on the big picture items.

3b: You Don’t Ask For Help (Employees)

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How it hurts your career: You end up spending too much time on one thing, reducing productivity and success.

Because you’re particular about how things are done, you don’t ask for help. Even when struggling, your perfectionist tendencies make it hard to take input from anyone else; especially when you’re in a rut and don’t want to admit it.

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There are two problems with this. The first is that this attitude makes you less productive, spending hours going around the same circle of thought and work process. It also means you’re not getting input that could take your work to the next level while learning something new. You’re growing in your career, but if you’re too stubborn to ask for help, you won’t go far.

4. You Don’t Celebrate the Small Victories

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How it hurts you: You’re never satisfied with where you’re at right now.

You’re so focused on how to be the best that you forget to step back and celebrate your wins. Instead of planning a happy hour after completing a major project, you dive head first into the next one. From an individual standpoint, you set yourself up for burnout.

On the leadership level, this attitude can lead to decreased workplace satisfaction and affect company culture—if you never praise employees for a job well done, they feel less valued and appreciated. You don’t need to plan a big celebration after completing every project, but taking some time to evaluate the work and praising your team for a job well done will make all the difference; for you and them.

5. You Spend too Much Time Obsessing About the Little Things

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How it hurts your career:  You’re less productive.

When you obsess over every small detail, you’re less productive. If you spend 20 minutes worrying about which font to use in an email and another half hour debating on the color scheme for your sales deck, you’re wasting time you could be using on more significant tasks.

While attention to detail is important and in some cases critical, employers look for efficient employees because time is money—the faster you can complete a job, and do it well, the more valuable you are to the company.

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Maximize your efficiency by giving yourself time limits for every task or project throughout the day. For example:

  • Sales deck design: 30 minutes
  • Sales deck content prep: 15 minutes
  • Sales deck slide writing: 2 hours

6. You Have Unrealistic Expectations

(Image: Expectations vs. Reality)

How it hurts your career: You set yourself up for failure.

When always and only striving for perfection, you set yourself up for disappointment. In an interview with LiveScience, Danielle Molnar, who studied perfectionism in nearly 500 Canadian adults notes, “These people are walking around with incredibly unrealistic expectations … they’re not just striving for excellence, they’re striving for absolute perfection, which of course is impossible. So they’re setting themselves up for more failure experiences.”

As a manager, you can mitigate this among your employees by inviting them to participate in goal-setting sessions. Work with them to set goals that are challenging but realistic, and remind them why this is important. When you let employees determine their own goals, you give them a greater sense of ownership and autonomy.

Go through the same goal setting process for yourself to combat your own unrealistic expectations. Make a point to celebrate every success, even minor, which may also reduce how hard you are on your work.

Perfectionism can help you achieve great things in life and work, but it’s important to understand how it can affect you and the people around you in the workplace. Not everyone shares your same desire for perfection, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the drive to succeed. With the right approach, your co-workers will come to appreciate your perfectionism and you will learn to value their idiosyncrasies as well.


Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years has managed a number of employees in her various roles. She now owns her own consulting business and has been featured on Forbes. She’s also shared her business insights on StartupNation, Manta, Glassdoor and more.

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