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‘Perfectionistic concerns’ linked to burnout

Research points to need for realistic goals and acceptance of failure

3 August 2015

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

People with perfectionistic concerns experience higher levels of burnout at work, new research has found.

Firms which do not recognise or reward stellar performance by people with perfectionistic tendencies may experience higher levels of cynicism and burnout.

"Perfectionistic concerns capture fears and doubts about personal performance, which creates stress that can lead to burnout when people become cynical and stop caring," said lead researcher Andrew Hill, an associate professor of sport psychology at York St. John University in England.

"It also can interfere with relationships and make it difficult to cope with setbacks because every mistake is viewed as a disaster."

In the first meta-analysis of the relationship between perfectionism and burnout, researchers analysed the findings from 43 previous studies conducted over the past 20 years.

They found that perfectionistic strivings may help to maintain a sense of accomplishment and delay the debilitating effects of burnout. This involves setting high personal standards and working toward those goals in a proactive manner.

However, the dark side of perfectionism, perfectionistic concerns, can be more detrimental.

People with perfectionistic concerns constantly worry about making mistakes, letting others down, or not measuring up to their own impossibly-high standards.

Previous research has shown that perfectionistic concerns and the stress they generate can contribute to serious health problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, fatigue and even early mortality.

The study found that perfectionistic concerns had the strongest negative effects in contributing to burnout in the workplace.

"People need to learn to challenge the irrational beliefs that underlie perfectionistic concerns by setting realistic goals, accepting failure as a learning opportunity, and forgiving themselves when they fail," said Hill.

"Creating environments where creativity, effort and perseverance are valued also would help."

A recent market survey found that two in three UK lawyers are facing burnout, with millennials most likely to suffer from chronic stress, depression and anxiety.

"Younger lawyers are under significant pressure to secure a training contract in a highly competitive environment, and then when newly qualified under continued pressure to retain their position, they work long hours, often feel anxious about their abilities and can be full of doubt as to whether or not they are cut out to be a lawyer," Elizabeth Rimmer, chief executive of the charity LawCare, told Managing Partner.

"The culture and practice of law can make it hard to talk about not coping with a demanding workload, which can be seen as a weakness."

Commenting on the issue of absence management, Michael Millward, founder of Abeceder, told Managing Partner: "In the legal profession especially, we've got anecdotal evidence of solicitors saying 'I will put anything on a sick note other than stress management because, if I put stress, depression or any mental health issue onto a sick note, then my career will be over'. That's their perception."

Most people display some characteristics of perfectionism in some aspect of their lives, but perfectionistic strivings or concerns may be more dominant in some, according to the academic researchers.

They suggested that the development of a personality profile which identifies perfectionistic concerns could be a valuable tool in detecting and helping individuals who are prone to burnout.

The research paper 'Multidimensional Perfectionism and Burnout: A Meta-Analysis' is published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in the Personality and Social Psychology Review.




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