A Guide To Overcoming Perfectionism And Avoiding Burnout

The condition of burnout is exhausting every day. Gallup polling from 2022 revealed that 76% of American workers experience fatigue and frustration at least some of the time. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the preexisting burnout in the past three years, regardless of age, gender, or socioeconomic status.

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Dr. Gordon Parker, professor of psychiatry at the University of New South Wales in Australia and lead author of Burnout: A Guide to Identifying Burnout and Pathways to Recovery, says perfectionists are particularly at risk. Perfectionists are likely to burn out when they plant the seed of work-related stress. In addition to fatigue, exhaustion, and cynicism, burnout can result in reduced productivity and quality of work and decreased efficacy. It’s surprising how little research is on who is most vulnerable to burnout.

Parker said, “We’re challenging the definition of burnout. We’re coming up with a much broader set of symptoms.”  The perfectionist seems to embody many of them.

Perfectionism: What Is It?

Despite the fact there is no one formal definition of perfectionism, Parker cites these statements as characterizing the mindset:

  • I strive to do my best in everything I do.
  • I hold myself to a high standard in everything I do
  • My goal is to be the best at anything I do.
  • My commitment to most things is unwavering.

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Parker describes this as a continuum. Both employers and employees would seem to seek to hire the most desirable candidates by agreeing wholeheartedly with the entire list, at least superficially. The first thing you need is reliable, dependable, and diligent people. It doesn’t matter what you tell them; they will say no, I have more work to do.

Perfection is not an intractable trait. A cognitive reorientation of perfectionists’ standards is more likely to bring about change than telling them to lower their standards. Perfectionists tend to catastrophize, viewing any mistake as the world’s end.