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The fine line of perfectionism: Is it a strength or a weakness in the workplace?

The fine line of perfectionism: Is it a strength or a weakness in the workplace?
Lindsay Bousman


Department of Psychology, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68588, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.


Perfectionism has been traditionally researched in the clinical psychology domain. While some research has used a normal student population, research applying perfectionism theories to a normal adult population working in Corporate America has not been conducted. Current research suggests two distinct types of perfectionism, maladaptive and adaptive, with different consequences. In this research, maladaptive and adaptive perfectionism were used to determine that traditional perfectionism measures can be used with a working adult sample to achieve similar psychometric properties, and to preliminarily test hypotheses related to their relationship with other individual difference variables. Second, maladaptive and adaptive perfectionism were used to determine if there were differences in these types of perfectionists on work-related outcomes such as stress, burnout, personality, job satisfaction, and job performance. The [Frost] Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale of six factors showed sufficient psychometric properties to be used with a normal adult sample of corporate employees. Across two studies, one with employed students and one with adult professional employees, adaptive perfectionists reported lower levels of stress, and burnout; were more Conscientious, Agreeable and less Neurotic; were more promotion focused than prevention focused; and reported higher levels of job satisfaction. The hypothesis testing the relationship between these two types of perfectionism and job performance was supported using a future-oriented measure, but not the annual performance review measure. Stress and burnout were also shown to be full mediators between maladaptive perfectionism subscales and job satisfaction, but not job performance. Overall, this research lends strong support for the use of perfectionism measures in non-clinical populations to identify adaptive and maladaptive perfectionists. More importantly, it serves to showcase that adaptive perfectionists can be a strength in the workplace: more Conscientious, Agreeable, Emotionally Stable, less stressed and burned out, more focused on positive outcomes, and more satisfied with their company and jobs. Maladaptive perfectionists can be a weakness for a workplace. There can be a downside to perfectionism related to higher stress and burnout, focused on preventing failures instead of promoting future success, and lower job and company satisfaction. Implications and future research are discussed applicable to academic and in-business research.