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Perfect Employees Are Anything But

Posted by Deb Muoio

Feb 12, 2015 10:03:48 AM

If you’re an HR manager, you’ve probably rolled your eyes more than once when a job candidate dutifullyperfect_employees stated that his/her biggest weakness is perfectionism, hoping that you will take it as a strength.

There are certain traits that HR managers should consistently look for in a job candidate, like conscientiousness, accountability, and integrity, but according to a study we conducted, we suggest that perfectionism not be one of them.

According to data we collected using our Perfectionism Test:

  • 66% employees who are perfectionists are more likely to miss deadlines if they don’t think a project is good enough.
  • 31% of perfectionists have consulted a professional (therapist, doctor) to help them with a stress-related problem.
  • In terms of job performance, 46% of perfectionists were rated as “Good,” 42% as “Satisfactory,” and 12% as “Poor,” compared to 58%, 42%, and 1% respectively for non-perfectionists.

When we analyzed the responses of 264 extreme perfectionists and 142 non-perfectionists, our data clearly indicate that perfectionism is more likely to be a liability than an advantage:

  • 80% of perfectionists are only proud of their work if it gets praise from their boss (compared to 8% of non-perfectionists).
  • 84% of perfectionists would rather work on their own than as part of a group because it’s the only way to make sure that every aspect of a project is done “right” (compared to 11% of non-perfectionists).
  • 89% of perfectionists worry about what others think of them (compared to 13% of non-perfectionists).
  • 72% of perfectionists believe that if even one mistake is found in their work, they will be considered incompetent (compared to 1% of non-perfectionists).
  • 92% of perfectionists assume that their boss wants them to succeed on every task and project they take on, leaving them no room to fail (compared to 24% of non-perfectionists).
  • For 96% of perfectionists, just the prospect of making a mistake at work worries them (compared to 10% of non-perfectionists).
  • 73% struggle to bounce back from failure (compared to 2% of non-perfectionists).
  • When delegating, 91% of perfectionists want the task to be done without a single error (compared to 4% of non-perfectionists).
  • 80% of perfectionists believe that when a group project they are working on doesn’t succeed, it’s typically due to the lack of effort of other people; they do not believe that they are personally responsible (compared to 7% of non-perfectionists).
  • 76% of perfectionists get frustrated or upset when they find a mistake in someone else’s work.

What HR managers should be looking for, rather than perfectionism, is accountability: an employee who is willing to admit mistakes and weaknesses and wants to learn and grow. Perfectionists take accountability to the extreme, and are unwilling to let go; they have trouble coping with the fear of other people’s opinion, of making mistakes, and of failure. They’re caught in a vicious cycle where they set impossible goals, fail to live up to their expectations, criticize themselves, and then try again to do things perfectly. And it almost never works out.

The worst part is, perfectionists are not just hard on themselves – they also tend to be hard on other people. This makes them a challenge to work with. They’ll struggle to get work done on time, will often require reassurance that they are performing up to par (or better), they’ll have difficulty accepting criticism, and will often be unpleasant for others to work with because of their tendency to be pedantic. The point is, managers will have their hands full with a perfectionist. It will be like handling a ticking time bomb: it won’t be long before their excessive meticulousness and perfectionism blows up in their face.

So if you’ve hired someone who tends to take perfectionism to an extreme, what can you do? Here’s what we suggest:

  • Give them a position where their attention to detail is an asset. Ask them to help with quality control, find solutions to improve efficiency and productivity, improve organization, or to take detailed notes during meetings.
  • Help them put the issue into perspective. First, don’t neglect the positive: “John, your attention to detail allows you to notice issues many people would miss, and it is clear to me that you are dedicated to providing the best. I am very appreciative of this.” Next, help them recognize the disadvantages of trying to be too perfect. “There are disadvantages to perfectionism, which you probably realize. Some perfectionists will miss deadlines because they keep trying to get things just right. This can hinder the completion of a project, and potentially cost the company money or result in missed opportunities.” Finally, get your perfectionist actively involved in the improvement process: “Do you have any suggestions on how we can limit these disadvantages? Your tips can go a long way to helping other employees who are perfectionists.”
  • Take their perfectionism into account when setting goals and assigning tasks. Clearly state what your expectations are. If you need a just a rough estimate, say so, and point out that you don’t need a thorough analysis made into a beautiful PowerPoint presentation; a simple Excel file with top level items will do just fine. Communicating that will save you lots of frustration. It will also reassure the perfectionists that “good enough” is what you expect.
  • Provide them with an artificial deadline. If the deadline for a project is in three weeks, ask perfectionists to have the bulk of the project done within two weeks. The extra week can be used to tie loose ends and do any necessary touch-ups, and provides a time buffer if needed. It also compels your perfectionists to stay focused because their time is limited.

If you’re interested in using the Perfectionism Test or other assessments for HR purposes, take ARCH Profile for a spin.

Want to learn more about using psychological tests for hiring, leadership development, career development or talent retention? Download our free eBook loaded with down-to-earth information about psychological testing for HR purposes.

Ready for a test drive of ARCH Profile, the delivery system for PsychTests’ assessments? All you need to do is ask!

Request your free trial of ARCH Profile!

Topics: Employee Attitude, Hiring, Mentoring, Employee Development, Coaching

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