Perfectionists are at particularly high risk of burnout

tHere are some of the fatigue—and common—like burnout conditions. Based on a Gallup poll in 2022, 76% of American workers said they have experienced a feeling of fatigue and eventual frustration, which is a hallmark of this condition at least some of the time. Burnout cuts by age, sex and socioeconomic status, and has only worsened over the past three years as the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing burnout.

According to Dr Gordon Parker, professor of psychiatry at the University of New South Wales in Australia and lead author of the book, although no one is safe from it, one group of people—perfectionists— are in particular danger. recent book Burnout: A Guide to Defining Burnout and Pathways to Recovery. Sow the seeds of work-related stress in the soil of perfectionism, and burnout is likely to sprout.

“Individuals bring behavioral factors to the table, and then one or more stressful events take the first stage,” says Parker. “We see it in conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and now we’re saying that there are some people—especially those who are thought to be very trustworthy and docile. —there is a very high risk of burnout.”

The main symptoms of burnout include feeling drained, tired and exhausted; cynicism or emotional distance from your work, whether it is at work or at home; and reduce work efficiency or quality. But for a condition as common as burnout, there is little research on who is most vulnerable.

Parker delved deeper into this condition. in one paper 2020 published year Journal of neurological and mental illness, he and his co-authors surveyed more than 1,000 people who believed they were suffering from burnout. Based on their responses, the researchers identified nine other burnout symptoms in addition to those already present: anxiety; Depression; irritable or angry; sleep disorders; lack of motivation or passion; memory problems or brain fog; withdraw money from others; physical symptoms such as headache, nausea, or low sex drive; and mood swings.

“We are challenging the definition of burnout,” says Parker. “We are presenting a much broader set of symptoms.” And perfectionists seem to embody many of these.

What is perfectionism?

Although there is no single official definition of perfectionism, Parker says that several statements characterize thinking, including:

  • “I try to do the best I can”
  • “I set high standards for myself and most of the work I take on”
  • “I push myself to be the best at most things I do”
  • “I commit to most of the things I take on.”

On the surface, at least, wholeheartedly agreeing to the entire list seems to be the goal of both employees trying to do the best job they can and employers looking to hire desirable candidates. Best. But there can be too much good, and in the case of perfectionists, there is Street too much.

“All of these things exist in a continuum,” says Parker. “You start with people who are reliable, dependable, and diligent. They work long hours. If they were asked to rest, they would say no, I have a lot of work to do.” All of that was fine until it wasn’t. “These people quickly slip into the category of perfectionists.” And that, Parker warns, can lead to burnout.

In his research, Parker has found that people in what he calls “caring” or “giving”—doctors, nurses, teachers, veterans, missionaries—are at high risk. burnout associated with perfectionism. “In Western countries, 30% doctors are likely to be exhausted at any given time, with the risk increasing by 60% over their lifetime,” he said. “Unfairly, burnout is most likely to happen to good people.”

The good news is that perfectionism is not an incurable trait. Although asking perfectionists to lower their personal standards of performance is unlikely to change, some kind of change in perception of those standards is possible. For starters, perfectionists tend to disaster, lived by a black and white point of view in which any mistake was considered a disaster. Not only does that lead to extreme anxiety, but it also leads to paralysis when projects are not completed—or are submitted late—due to fear of mistakes. That’s why perfectionism is often associated with procrastination.

Reflecting on past mistakes is another emotional minefield for perfectionists—one that Parker encourages them to placate. He writes in his book: “Remove thoughts of past events, self-doubt and self-accusation. If you feel you must be anxious, Parker advises, try a type of capsule technique in which anxiety is limited to a certain amount of time each day—20 minutes, for example. At other times, he suggests, try thought-stopping techniques like wearing a rubber band around one wrist and yanking it off when you start thinking again.

Perfectionists can also work to improve their tolerance for real-time errors or imperfections. Acknowledging mistakes as they happen—both internally and externally, if necessary, to a supervisor who may need to know about mistakes—is a curse for perfectionists. But being able to do so helps build perfectionists’ emotional immune systems, making them less likely to torment themselves for having done a less than perfect job.

Perfectionists can also be extroverted—perfectionists find fault not only in themselves but in others as well. Parker advises perfectionists to show their colleagues and loved ones the forgiveness and kindness that perfectionists should display. Psychologist Dennis Stolle, senior director of applied psychology for the American Psychological Association, echoes this idea, citing the dangers of other-directed perfectionism — even whether it’s a parent who demands only the best from a kid in sports or a boss who’s uncompromising towards employees. standard.

“The kid will have this notion, ‘Parents need me to be perfect on the football field, otherwise that’s a problem,’” Stolle said. And when you have an employee and manager who are both “highly maladaptive perfectionists,” that can be a disaster.

Neither perfectionism nor burnout is likely to go away entirely—not because work and family stressors persist over the long term, and they will. But being able to separate the two makes life easier—and healthier—for both perfectionists and those around them.

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