Exploding the myth – why it’s good not to be perfect at work

We live in a world where we’re trained to strive for perfection, thereby setting ourselves up for failure time and time again. It turns out, however, that it’s not only okay to fall short of this ambition but it’s actually a good thing not to seek to achieve it in the first place. Phew! Many thanks to the Wall Street Journal for dispelling the myth! According to its fascinating article on the subject, perfection is out, but high standards remain very much in. Here’s why:


Perfectionism is increasingly out of sync with the working world. Consider the idea of the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) according to which companies tweak or abandon prototypes based on early customer feedback. It teaches us that it’s more important to get your product out there early rather than lose weeks and months trying to achieve perfection in the first iteration.


The growing emphasis on employee wellbeing triggered by the pandemic is another reason why impossibly high expectations have fallen out of favour. Research shows that perfectionism is closely associated with stress, depression and burnout.


There are different types of perfectionists – a) a ‘self-oriented’ version in which people put pressure on themselves to perform flawlessly; b) an ‘other-oriented’ version in which people apply impossibly high standards to their colleagues; and c) a ‘socially prescribed’ version in which employees think that they will only progress if they meet their peers’ unreachable expectations. The last group, living in constant fear of making a mistake, are particularly stress-prone.


Perfectionists may also be detrimental to team cohesion. Often considered less socially skilled and likeable than non-perfectionists, they tend to get their teammates’ backs up. A team that doesn’t gel is not conducive to success.


Despite all the above, perfectionist bosses can make the difference between good products and truly superb innovations. Moreover, some jobs actively require perfectionism, e.g. medicine regulators.


Happily, abandoning ambitions of perfection doesn’t mean sacrificing high standards. So if we aim for high-quality work without chasing a standard of perfection that simply doesn’t exist, we (and our work) will be in good shape.


Do you agree? Please get in touch to let us know your thoughts. And if there are any other work or recruitment-related matters that you’d like us to address in future newsletters, please let us know. We are the UK’s number one multilingual recruitment agency and we are, as always, here to help!