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Perfectionism at work: Impacts on burnout, job satisfaction and depression

Authors:
Perfectionism at Work
PERFECTIONISM AT WORK: IMPACTS ON BURNOUT,
JOB SATISFACTION, AND DEPRESSION
Paul Fairlie, M.A.
Department of Psychology
York University
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, ON M3J 1P3
Phone: (416) 961-9223
paul.fairlie@sympatico.ca
Gordon L. Flett, Ph.D
Department of Psychology
York University
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, ON M3J 1P3
Phone: (416) 736-2100, x44575
gflett@yorku.ca
Poster presented at the 111th. Annual Convention of the
American Psychological Association at Toronto, Ontario, Canada,
August, 2003
Date and Time: August 8, 2003, 2:00-3:50 pm.
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Abstract
Perfectionism has been implicated with many forms of psychological adjustment (Flett &
Hewitt, 2002). However, little is known about the role of perfectionism in work
adjustment. The present study attempts to fill this void by investigating relationships
between self-oriented, other-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionism, and
dimensions of burnout, job satisfaction and depression in the work context. There was a
specific interest to determine whether self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionism
are related to work adjustment in the context of trait-congruent job characteristics such as
low autonomy and ambiguous feedback. In general, the results suggest that socially
prescribed perfectionism is a vulnerability factor in the experience of burnout, job
dissatisfaction and depression, and that this dimension operates independent of perceived
job characteristics. No significant interactions were found. Overall, the study contributes
to the fields of personality, clinical and organizational psychology by 1) addressing a long-
standing need for rigourous research on perfectionism and burnout, 2) expanding the
range of personality variables that are studied in the context of job satisfaction, and 3)
demonstrating the impact that maladaptive cognitive-personality variables may have in
lowering work adjustment. It is hoped that the results will inform human resource
management practices such as personnel assessment and placement, job re-design, and
employee assistance.
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Introduction
Perfectionism
The last decade has seen a flurry of research on perfectionism and its impact of
psychological adjustment (see Flett & Hewitt, 2002). Trait perfectionism involves
tendencies to set unrealistic standards for performance and engage in exaggerated strivings
to fulfill such standards (Hewitt & Flett, 1991a). As a cognitive-personality variable, it
also involves selective attention, overgeneralization of failure, stringent self-evaluation,
and all-or-nothing thinking whereby only total success or total failure is possible
(Hamachek, 1978; Hewitt & Flett, 1991b; Pacht, 1984). Hewitt and Flett (1991a) have
identified three dimensions of trait perfectionism. Self-oriented perfectionism involves
setting unrealistic, exacting self-standards, as well as stringently evaluating and censuring
one’s behaviour. This dimension also entails a strong motivation to attain perfection and
avoid failure. Other-oriented perfectionism involves setting unrealistic standards for
significant others, placing importance on the perfection of others, and stringently
evaluating others’ performance. Individuals who are high in socially prescribed
perfectionism perceive themselves to be the subjects of other people’s perfectionistic
expectations. They believe that others evaluate them stringently and apply pressure on
them to be perfect.
A large body of research has established relationships between dimensions of
perfectionism and multiple forms of adjustment (Flett & Hewitt, 2002). Both self-oriented
perfectionism (Hewitt & Dyck, 1986; Hewitt & Flett, 1990; Hewitt & Flett, 1991a;
Hewitt, Mittlestaedt, & Flett, 1990) and socially prescribed perfectionism (Flett, Hewitt,
Blankstein, & Mosher, 1991; Flett, Hewitt, Blankstein, & O’Brien, 1991; Hewitt & Flett,
1990; Hewitt & Flett, 1991a; 1991b) have been associated with depression and anxiety
states. Self-oriented perfectionism has been shown to interact with a number of variables
to produce negative affect, including perceived failure and maladaptive coping styles
(Burns & Beck, 1978; Hewitt & Dyck, 1986; Hewitt & Flett, 1993), life stress (Flett,
Hewitt, & Dyck, 1989) and generalized performance importance (Hewitt, Mittelstaedt, &
Flett, 1990). Socially prescribed perfectionism, in particular, has demonstrated the
strongest and most significant relationships with a wide range of adjustment indices
(Hewitt & Flett, 1991a; 1991b; Hewitt, Flett, & Turnbull-Donovan, 1992; Flett, Hewitt,
Blankstein, & Mosher 1991).
Purpose of the Study
While much is known about the impact of perfectionism on general forms of adjustment,
little is known of its impact on various forms of work-related adjustment (e.g., Flett,
Hewitt, & Hallett, 1995). This oversight is conspicuous given the achievement
implications of both perfectionism (a personality variable) and the workplace (an
environment). Perfectionism has already been studied in other performance domains (e.g.,
scholastic, athletic, artistic). The current study was undertaken to address this limitation
by examining relationships among dimensions of perfectionism and levels of burnout, job
satisfaction and symptoms of depression. Perceived job characteristics were also
investigated as correlates of perfectionism (Hackman & Oldman, 1975). Two of these
characteristics, autonomy and feedback, were examined as moderating influences on
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perfectionism-work adjustment relationships. These variables are expected to operate as
proxies for work-related events and experiences. This is consistent with cognitive-
behavioural theories of depression (Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979) and diathesis-
stress models of adjustment in general.
This study addresses a long-standing need to examine perfectionism as a vulnerability
factor in burnout. Past research on this topic has been limited in scope and methodology.
For example, some burnout researchers have measured perfectionism as a unidimensional
construct (e.g., Fry, 1995). Other research strongly suggests that perfectionism is
multidimensional in nature (Hewitt & Flett, 1991b; Hewitt, Flett, Turnbull-Donovan, &
Mikail, 1991). Past research on perfectionism and burnout has also been conducted on
small samples (Fry, 1995) and relatively narrow populations such as clergy (Corrigan,
1998; Grosch & Olsen, 2000; Moore, 1984), tennis players (Gould, Tuffey, Udry, &
Loehr, 1996; 1997), musicians (Dews & Williams, 1989), career mothers (Mitchelson &
Burns, 1998) and females executives (Fry, 1995). The proposed study will attempt to
rectify these limitations. Although these studies are limited, they provide general evidence
of the relevance of perfectionism to burnout. For example, Mitchelson and Burns (1998)
found a link between socially prescribed perfectionism at work and burnout.
The current study was also undertaken to expand the range of dispositional variables
that are implicated with job satisfaction. Many studies in the past have focused solely on
the role of affective disposition (e.g., Levin & Stokes, 1989; Necowitz & Roznowski,
1994; Pulakos & Schmitt, 1983; Staw & Ross, 1985; Watson & Slack, 1993). More
recently, researchers have examined the impact of dysfunctional attitudes (Judge & Locke,
1993) and core self-evaluations on job satisfaction (Judge, Bono, & Locke, 2000; Judge,
Locke, Durham, & Kluger, 1998). This emerging interest in cognitive-personality
variables as predictors of job satisfaction suggests that perfectionism would be a relevant
addition to the fold.
Finally, the study was intended to expand our knowledge of perfectionism and
depression within the work context. Perfectionism has been identified as a vulnerability
factor in depression. Consistent with Beck’s cognitive-behavioural model of depression
(Beck et al., 1979), dimensions of perfectionism have been shown to interact with trait-
congruent events and experiences to produce elevated depressed mood (Hewitt & Flett,
1993). By demonstrating interactions among dimensions of perfectionism and job
characteristics, Beck’s model of depression may be leveraged as a model of work-related
adjustment. Although depression is a context-free form of adjustment, its partial prediction
from perfectionism-job characteristics interactions would contextualize it as a form of
work-related adjustment. Additionally, such interactions would demonstrate the part-
whole relationship that work has in determining overall levels of well-being.
In general, the rationale for studying perfectionism in the workplace is strengthened by
research on workaholism. Studies suggests that perfectionism and workaholism share
similar features. Some studies indicate that workaholics have perfectionistic tendencies
(Burke, 1999a; 1999b; Spence & Robbins, 1992), while others suggest that perfectionism
is a particular kind of workaholism (Scott, Moore, & Miceli, 1997). Additionally,
workaholism has been implicated with variables that are similar or identical to those
investigated in the current study, including job stress (Burke, 1999a; Spence & Robbins,
1992), job satisfaction (Burke, 1999b), and psychological well-being (Burke, 1999b).
Given this body of work , it was expected that perfectionism has similar relationships with
burnout, job satisfaction and depression in the work context. Since workaholism has been
Perfectionism at Work
5
deemed an important person variable in the maintenance of workplace adjustment, the
time seemed ripe for a commensurate study of perfectionism.
Research Strategy & Hypotheses
Relationships among dimensions of perfectionism, job characteristics and work
adjustment were initially investigated through correlational analysis to determine the
presence of bivariate, linear associations. Hierarchical regression analyses were then
conducted to determine whether perfectionism-work adjustment relationships are
moderated by perceptions of specific job characteristics.
For the most part, we chose to focus on a small subset of variables for regression
analyses. Self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionism were chosen because of their
consistent and substantive relationships with general forms of adjustment (Flett & Hewitt,
2002). Their focus on personal performance also makes them especially relevant in the
context of work-related adjustment. Among job characteristics, autonomy and feedback
were chosen because of their strong empirical links to work adjustment. Perceptions of
low autonomy and absent or ambiguous feedback have been associated with burnout
(Cordes & Dougherty, 1993; Jackson, Schwab, & Schuler, 1986) and job dissatisfaction
(Loher, Noe, Moeller, & Fitzgerald, 1985). In general, perceptions of control (Benassi,
Sweeney, & Dufour, 1988) and interpersonal feedback (Joiner & Coyne, 1999) have long
been implicated with depressive symptomatology.
In terms of work adjustment, we focused on exhaustion, satisfaction with work itself,
global job satisfaction and symptoms of depression. As a component of burnout,
exhaustion was chosen because of the central mediating role it is believed to play in the
burnout syndrome (Lee & Ashforth, 1993; Leiter & Maslach, 1988) as well as the validity
of its measurement compared to other components of burnout (i.e., cynicism and
professional efficacy; Shirom, 1989). Satisfaction with work itself was chosen because of
its apparent relevance for self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionists. Both
personality traits and this facet of job satisfaction have a focus on task performance and
achievement. Global job satisfaction was examined as a work adjustment outcome because
it represents an overall evaluation of one’s job and all of its facets (Spector, 1997). Global
measures tend to capture more affective qualities of job satisfaction (Organ & Near,
1985). This would appear to make them more consistent with general measures of
psychological distress. Additionally, since facet measures of job satisfaction and job
characteristics may be confounded (Buckley, Carraher, & Cote, 1992; Crampton &
Wagner, 1994; Pierce, McTavish, & Knudsen, 1986). Supplementing a facet measure with
a global measure of job satisfaction in the study would address this problem.
In general, it was hypothesized that self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionism
would be positively correlated with dimensions of burnout and negatively correlated with
dimensions of job satisfaction. It was further hypothesized that these relationships would
be moderated by autonomy and feedback. A perceived lack of control over one’s work
efforts, and an absence of clear performance feedback may be exceptionally stressful for
individuals with excessive needs to achieve and attain perfection on the job. Perfectionists
may feel that having singular control over their work processes is essential to ‘ensure’
perfection in their end products. Additionally, in the absence of clear or frequent feedback,
they may evaluate their performance more negatively, resulting in lower levels of work-
related adjustment. These hypotheses are supported by prior research on perfectionism
and performance (Mor, Day, Flett, & Hewitt, 1995).
Perfectionism at Work
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It was also expected that self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionism would
interact with autonomy and feedback to predict symptoms of depression. As mentioned
earlier, depression is considered to be a context-free form of adjustment. It may be viewed
as a general organismic response to cumulative or combined stressors encountered across
a variety of life domains (e.g., family, work, leisure). In much the same way that job
satisfaction has been shown to have an impact on overall life satisfaction (Near, Rice, &
Hunt, 1978; Rice, Near, & Hunt, 1980), the experience of negative experiences in the
workplace is likely to contribute to overall levels of depression as a function of the part-
whole relationship that work has with life in general (Judge & Locke, 1993). While there
has been much research on the nature of affect and emotion within work settings (Fisher &
Ashkanasy, 2000; Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996), emotional reactions to work (Marsella,
1994), and the impact of work on general forms of well-being (Kelloway & Barling, 1991;
Warr, 1987), there has been little research on the contribution of work experiences to the
onset and maintenance of depressive disorders. For example, a recent review of depression
made little mention of risk factors, diagnosis and treatment of depression in the context of
worklife (Richards & Perri, 2002).
Finally, it was hypothesized that all three dimensions of perfectionism would
demonstrate incremental validity by predicting exhaustion, satisfaction with work, global
job satisfaction, and depression symptoms once perceived job characteristics are
controlled for. While perfectionistic traits likely have significant impacts on work-related
adjustment in the context of trait-congruent job characteristics, prior research suggests
that they may, on their own, lead to lower levels of work-related adjustment. The
subjective experience of trait perfectionism includes a high frequency of automatic
thoughts concerning the need to be perfect. These cognitions, alone, have been linked to
psychological distress (Flett, Hewitt, Blankstein, & Gray, 1998). A similar analysis was
planned with depression symptoms as the outcome variable. This was undertaken to
demonstrate the impact that perfectionism may have on depression independent of job
characteristic-related stressors.
Method
Participants
The total sample consisted of 279 employed Canadians who were working 20 or more
hours per week. Of this total, 130 participants were continuing education students
enrolled at York University. Eighty-three participants were employees of a human
resources staffing and consulting firm that services the information technology sector. The
remaining 66 participants were health care workers employed by non-profit organization
supporting individuals with developmental disabilities.
The total sample was predominantly female (72%), married or co-habitating (67%), and
had some college or university education (74%). Organizationally, most participants
worked in the private sector (51%), occupied non-supervisory or non-management
positions (65%), worked between 30 and 49 hours per week (76%) and earned between
$30,000 and $59,999 gross income (54%). The majority of participants had been in their
present job for more than 6 months (91%). The average participant age was 36.8 years.
Multivariate analyses of variance (MANOVAs) were conducted to investigate group
differences on variables slated for analysis. No significant differences for found for gender.
Significant differences were found for participant source but were not substantive or
Perfectionism at Work
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consistent enough across variables to warrant separate group analyses at this time. These
differences will be investigated more thoroughly in a follow-up study1.
Materials and Procedure
The data were collected through a battery of self-report questionnaires. The instruments
are well-known and possess adequate psychometric properties. Three dimensions of
perfectionism were measured using the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS;
Hewitt et al., 1991). Six dimensions of perceived job characteristics were measured using
a revision of the Job Diagnostic Survey (JDS; Hackman & Oldham, 1975; Idaszak &
Drasgow, 1987). Three dimensions of burnout were assessed using the Maslach Burnout
Inventory-General Survey (MGI-GS; Schaufeli, Leiter, Maslach, & Jackson, 1996). The
Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) was used to measure
affective and somatic symptoms of depression (Radloff, 1977). The Job Descriptive Index
was used to measure satisfaction with five facets of one’s job (JDI; Balzer et al., 1997)
while the Job in General scale was used to measure global job satisfaction (JIG; Ironson,
Smith, Brannick, Gibson, & Paul, 1989)2.
Two methods of data collection were used. The student participants were recruited in
classrooms. They completed a hard copy version of the battery at home and returned it the
following week. Incentives included a cash lottery. The organizational participants
completed a web version of the battery. Both versions of the battery take approximately
30 minutes to complete. Few significant differences were found among hard copy and
web-based participants on the study variables.
Results
Table 1 contains the means, standard deviations, coefficient alphas and zero-order
correlations for all measures (see Appendix ‘B’). The internal consistency levels are
acceptable for all measures (mean alpha = 0.86). As expected, socially prescribed
perfectionism demonstrated the most robust relationships with work adjustment variables,
being positively-correlated with exhaustion, cynicism, and depression symptoms, and
negatively-correlated with work, supervision, co-worker, and global satisfaction. Other-
oriented perfectionism was also negatively-correlated with co-worker satisfaction.
Tables 2 through 5 contain the summary results of hierarchical regression analyses
conducted to test hypotheses that job characteristics moderate perfectionism-work
adjustment relationships. Socially prescribed perfectionism was a significant predictor of
all adjustment outcomes. With respects to exhaustion and depression, socially prescribed
perfectionism continued to be a significant predictor in the context of autonomy and
feedback variables. Autonomy was a significant predictor of all adjustment outcomes after
controlling for perfectionism dimensions. Autonomy and feedback from the job also
emerged as independent predictors of depressive symptoms. No interaction block
contributed significant variance to any of the equations3. However, self-oriented
perfectionism-autonomy interactions were either significant or approached significance for
exhaustion and depression symptoms.
1 A third sample of part-time MBA students was also studied (n=116). Their results differed significantly
from the current sample on a number of variables. Their results will be reported in a follow-up study.
2 More information on select subscales and dimensions can be found in Appendix ‘A’.
3 Interaction blocks are not included in the tables.
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Tables 6 through 9 contain the summary results of hierarchical regression analyses
conducted to examine the incremental validity of perfectionism dimensions as predictors of
adjustment outcomes after controlling for job characteristics. In this context, socially
prescribed perfectionism emerged as a significant predictor of exhaustion, global job
satisfaction, and depression symptoms. Dimensions of perfectionism were not significant
predictors of satisfaction with work after controlling for job characteristics.
Discussion
In general, the results suggest that socially prescribed perfectionism is a vulnerability
factor in the experience of burnout, job dissatisfaction and depression. The link between
socially prescribed perfectionism and exhaustion was expected. Due to their high need for
approval and fear of negative evaluation (Hewitt & Flett, 1991b), individuals who are high
on this dimension may come to overextend themselves in an on-going attempt to meet
what they perceive as the unattainable standards of others. The link between this
dimension and cynicism also makes intuitive sense. Cynicism represents an attempt to gain
distance from one’s job as a means of coping with exhaustion (Maslach, Jackson, &
Leiter, 1996). Since socially prescribed perfectionism is associated with perceiving others’
standards and evaluations as harsh and uncontrollable, individuals who are high on this
dimension may withdraw from their jobs in a cynical fashion in the attempt to minimize
their negative affect. It general, concerns about lack of control and lack of recognition are
prevalent among people who score highly on socially prescribed perfectionism.
Considering that low-control and low-recognition jobs are viewed as ripe conditions for
burnout, irrespective of personality (Cordes & Dougherty, 1993; Jackson et al., 1986),
socially prescribed perfectionism may play a significant role in the exacerbating this
syndrome.
The links between socially prescribed perfectionism and various forms of job satisfaction
are not surprising. Socially prescribed perfectionism often entails perceptions of
helplessness (Hewitt et al., 1992), which have further been linked to low levels of job
satisfaction (Loher et al., 1985). Socially prescribed perfectionists may also be more prone
to job dissatisfaction as a function of burnout, which has been identified as a precursor to
job dissatisfaction (Wolpin, Burke, & Greenglass, 1991). Socially prescribed perfectionism
appears especially relevant for co-worker and supervisor satisfaction. This is
understandable, given that other people in the workplace are likely viewed as sources of
perfectionistic standards. Since socially prescribed perfectionism is also associated with a
maladaptive interpersonal style (Hewitt & Flett, 1991b), individuals who are high on this
dimension may be dissatisfied with others as a function of lower-quality relationships. The
association between other-oriented perfectionism and co-worker satisfaction may be
similarly explained, since other-oriented perfectionism is associated with its own profile of
negative interpersonal behaviours (Hewitt & Flett, 1991b). In general, individuals who are
other-oriented are prone to experience loneliness and unsatisfactory relationships (Burns,
1983; Hollander, 1965).
The findings from regression analysis both solidified and clarified the nature of socially
prescribed perfectionism’s relationship to work adjustment outcomes. While this
dimension is implicated with a number of adjustment outcomes, the results suggest that it
has its most robust impacts on levels of exhaustion and depressive symptoms.
Additionally, socially prescribed perfectionism appears to exert an influence on levels of
exhaustion and depressive symptoms in a way that is not explained by perceptions of job
Perfectionism at Work
9
characteristics. This is noteworthy, given that socially prescribed perfectionism is
correlated with perceived job characteristics (see Table 1). These findings would suggest
that socially prescribed perfectionism is a unique or independent source of burnout and
depression symptoms, at least in the context of the other measured variables. This
supports past findings that socially prescribed perfectionism, as a main effect, has its own
impacts on psychological distress (Flett et al., 1998). Additionally, with respect to
depression, these findings help to demonstrate the part-whole relationship that each life
domain has on life in general. That is, the unique effect of socially prescribed perfectionism
on depression may represent the impact of unmeasured events and experiences that occur
outside of the workplace4.
The findings on socially prescribed perfectionism and job satisfaction are more
equivocal. Socially prescribed perfectionism predicted global job satisfaction, but not
satisfaction with work itself when analyzed in the context of job characteristics. It may be
ventured that global job satisfaction, as an affective reaction to one’s job, may be lower
among individuals with high levels of socially prescribed perfectionism due to higher levels
of negative affect and dysphoria that typically accompany this dimension. Negative affect
states may have the effect of colouring feelings of satisfaction more so than cognitive
evaluations of one’s job (Bower, 1981).
Currently, little can be said about the role of self-oriented perfectionism and work
adjustment. It was hypothesized that this dimension would be correlated with levels of
burnout, job satisfaction and depression symptoms. It was further hypothesized that this
dimension would interact with autonomy and feedback perceptions to predict work
adjustment outcomes. Although some weak interactions were detected, they were part of
non-significant interaction blocks. At the very least, these isolated findings point to an area
for further study with these variables.
The absence of effects for self-oriented perfectionism is not unusual. Past research has
shown that self-oriented perfectionism leads to psychological distress primarily in the
context of other state or experiential variables (Flett et al., 1991; Hewitt & Flett, 1993;
Hewitt, Flett, & Endler, 1995). Although self-oriented perfectionism did not interact with
autonomy and feedback in the present study, it may do so with other measured, as well as
unmeasured job characteristics (e.g., Campion & Thayer, 1985). Additionally, since
perceived job characteristics were chosen to represent proxies of negative events and
experiences in the workplace, future research should entail the measurement of actual
trait-congruent events and experiences. It is also possible that relationships among self-
oriented perfectionism and levels of work adjustment are more substantive within certain
populations. This will be investigated in a follow-up study based on some initial analyses
with another sample. Many of these expectations for self-oriented perfectionism also hold
for socially prescribed perfectionism, which also failed to interact with autonomy and
feedback variables in the current study5.
The implications of this study are plentiful. However, only a few of these will be
highlighted here. One over-arching implication concerns the finding that socially
prescribed perfectionism has unique influence on levels of work adjustment. If socially
prescribed perfectionism affects burnout, job dissatisfaction and workplace depression in a
4 As well as other, unmeasured work events or experiences.
5 It should also be pointed out that we tested only for moderated relationships. Prior studies have
demonstrated that job characteristics also mediate personality-work adjustment relationships (Judge et al.,
1998).
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10
way that is relatively independent of job or work features, then potentially, the detection,
treatment, and prevention of work-related adjustment problems should take this
personality factor into consideration. For example, because socially prescribed
perfectionism has so often been associated with only context-free forms of adjustment
(e.g., anxiety, depression), clinicians may neglect to assess and treat a client based on
his/her commensurate level of work adjustment (e.g., burnout). The failure to do so may
lead to further erosion of the client’s occupational and general mental health. At the very
least, socially prescribed perfectionism should be treated in the full context of its impact on
work, family and leisure.
From an organizational perspective, socially prescribed perfectionism should be
considered as a context for understanding and detecting workplace depression.
Increasingly, managers are being taught to recognize symptoms of depression among their
staff (Johnson & Indvik, 1997). This information could be supplemented with information
on depressogenic personality traits such as socially prescribed perfectionism to round out
the profile of the typical ‘depressed worker’. Given that depression tends to be
underdiagnosed in the workplace and abroad (Hirschfeld et al., 1997) this additional
information may assist concerned managers and co-workers in identifying and addressing
colleagues that are in need of employee assistance or other forms of counseling.
Understanding socially prescribed perfectionism as a vulnerability factor in work
adjustment may also inform the therapeutic modalities and interventions that are used to
treat these problems within employee assistance programs. Specifically, since dimensions
of perfectionism is considered to be cognitive vulnerability factors in anxiety and
depression, there may be some value in administering cognitive-behavioural forms of
therapy in the context of employee assistance (e.g., Beck et al., 1979). Although there are
a number of treatment considerations associated with perfectionism (Flett & Hewitt,
2002), CBT has shown some efficacy in this area (Ferguson & Rodway, 1994).
Finally, by increasing awareness of the traits that are associated with levels of burnout,
job dissatisfaction, and workplace depression, human resource managers may design talent
management systems that are partially aimed at reducing or preventing these problem
states. A profile for socially prescribed perfectionism may be identified on standard
personality inventories that are used for generating personnel decisions (e.g., 16PF;
Russell & Karol, 1994). While it may not be advisable to use such profiles for selection
and outplacement, they may be used to help place recent hires in positions or on teams
that provide the best fit. For example, recent hires who are high on socially prescribed
perfectionism may excel in environments where performance feedback is clear and
frequent (as well as fair and constructive). Awareness of traits may also inform the need to
re-design jobs and engage in more comprehensive organizational development to be better
accommodate employees who possess these traits. This may be especially relevant for
occupations, sectors and/or industries that typically attract and employee a large number
of individuals with perfectionistic tendencies.
The importance of understanding and addressing burnout, dissatisfaction, and depression
in the workplace does not stem entirely from humanistic concerns. Studies are quickly
mounting to show the deleterious effect that these states have on organizational
effectiveness. Burnout and satisfaction have proven costly to organizations through
eroded performance, higher absenteeism, and turnover (Harter, Schmidt, & Keyes, 2003;
Harter, Schmidt, & Hayes, 2002; Lee & Ashforth, 1996). Depression, in particular, has
been estimated to cost the North American economy billions of dollars each year in lost
Perfectionism at Work
11
productivity (Finkelstein, Berndt, Greenberg, 1995). Much of these costs are shouldered
by employers (Hirschfeld et al., 1997). Although the effect sizes from this and other
studies may be small to moderate at best, past studies shows that even small research
effects can translate into substantive financial impacts on governments and organizations
(Abelson, 1985; Sechrest & Yeaton, 1982).
Conclusion
The current study provides initial evidence for the role of perfectionism in work
maladjustment. Specifically, socially prescribed perfectionism has been established as a
potential vulnerability factor in burnout, job dissatisfaction, and depression in the work
context. The relationship of this dimension of perfectionism to burnout and depression
symptoms were especially robust. Furthermore, the impact of socially prescribed
perfectionism on adjustment outcomes was evident both when observed alone and in
concert with perceptions of relevant job characteristics. This singular impact suggests that
socially prescribed perfectionism may warrant closer attention in the detection, treatment
and prevention of workplace adjustment. Future research will be undertaken to examine
this and other dimensions of perfectionism in the context of other job and work variables
and in specific employee populations. In general, the study addressed limitations of past
research, including a dearth of studies on perfectionism and burnout, and the need to study
a wider range of personality variables in the context of job satisfaction.
Perfectionism at Work
12
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Appendices
Appendix A: Select Instrument Subscales and Dimensions
Job Diagnostic Survey (JDS)
Skill Variety The degree to which a job requires the performance of a
variety of different activities and enables the employee to
apply a wide range of personal skills and talents.
Task Identity The degree to which a job requires the employee to
complete a whole, identifiable piece of work from beginning
to end.
Task Significance The extent to which a job has significant impact on the lives
or work of others.
Autonomy The degree to which a job allows freedom and
independence such as determining procedures and
scheduling work.
Feedback from the Job
Itself
The extent to which engaging in job activities provides clear
and direct feedback regarding effectiveness.
Feedback from Agents The degree to which employees receive clear feedback
about their effectiveness from supervisors or co-workers.
Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey (MBI-GS)
Exhaustion Feelings of emotional and physical fatigue, overextention,
and exhaustion from one’s work.
Cynicism An indifference or distant attitude towards one’s work.
Professional Efficacy Individual expectations of continued effectiveness at work.
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Appendix B: Tables
Table 1
Intercorrelations and Coefficient Alphas
for Measures of Perfectionism, Job
Characteristics, Burnout, Job
Satisfaction and Depression
Mean S.D. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19.
1. Self-Oriented Perf 71.85 14.61 87
2. O ther-Oriented Perf 60.66 12.51 59 79
3. Soci ally-Prescribed Perf 51.10 13.33 47 41 83
4. Skill Vari ety 5.33 1.47 -02 -10 -13 85
5. T ask Identity 4.92 1.49 06 03 -05 25 81
6. T ask Significance 5.73 1.21 00 -09 -08 64 14 80
7. Autonomy 5.57 1.20 04 -07 -17 54 28 52 82
8. F eedback-Job 4.98 1.28 -02 -03 -16 43 50 41 45 82
9. F eedback-Ag ents 4.23 1.60 02 00 -19 27 20 24 29 42 91
10. Exhaustion 2.49 1.44 07 07 27 -17 -08 - 24 -26 -21 - 15 90
11. Cynicism 1.95 1.50 05 11 26 -48 -12 - 50 -46 -37 - 30 59 87
12. Professional Efficacy 1.08 0.83 -11 00 15 -48 -22 -53 -47 -44 -25 21 42 75
13. Satisfaction with W ork 38.84 14.22 -0 6 -12 -20 74 25 64 61 48 38 -35 -67 -52 92
14. Satisfaction with Pay 29.35 16.59 -0 5 -02 -12 12 15 09 27 16 11 -20 -18 -03 23 86
15. Satisfaction with Promotion 18.95 15.17 -0 6 -06 -06 23 19 13 21 23 33 -28 -37 -14 34 35 86
16. Satisfaction with Supervision 38.68 14.00 -03 -05 -24 20 17 13 31 27 51 - 29 -31 -22 33 31 33 91
17. Satisfaction with Co-W orkers 38.91 12.46 -12 -22 -28 35 19 34 34 28 33 -37 -44 -32 52 31 33 43 89
18. Global Job Satisfaction 40.89 13.24 -01 -09 -21 57 21 57 57 37 35 -43 -63 -47 75 35 38 45 64 94
19. Depression 10.40 9.50 04 05 32 -3 1 - 24 -33 -32 -29 -16 51 47 36 -39 -24 -16 -18 -33 -41 92
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19.
Note . N = 279 . C oeff icient a lphas ar e presented along the diagonals. D ecimals of rs om itted.
For rs |0. 12|, p < 0.05 (tw o-tailed); rs |0. 16|, p < 0.01 (tw o-tailed); rs |0.21|, p < 0.001 (two-tailed).
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Table 2.
Hierarchical Regression Analysis Summary for Perfectionism, Job Characteristics, and
Perfectionism x Job Characteristics Interactions Predicting Exhaustion
Variable B seB β
Step 1 .08
Self-oriented Perf -.01 .01 -.07
Socially Prescribed Perf .03 .01 .30***
Step 2 .13 .05
Self-oriented Perf -.00 .01 -.03
Socially Prescribed Perf .03 .01 .24***
Autonomy -.22 .08 -.18**
Feedback-Job -.10 .08 -.09
Feedback-Agents -.02 .06 -.02
n = 279; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001
Table 3.
Hierarchical Regression Analysis Summary for Perfectionism, Job Characteristics, and
Perfectionism x Job Characteristics Interactions Predicting Satisfaction with Work Itself
Variable B seB β
Step 1 .04
Self-oriented Perf .04 .07 .05
Socially Prescribed Perf -.24 .07 -.22***
Step 2 .45 .41
Self-oriented Perf -.06 .05 -.06
Socially Prescribed Perf -.03 .06 -.03
Autonomy 5.56 .61 .47***
Feedback-Job 2.21 .59 .20***
Feedback-Agents 1.39 .45 .16**
n = 279; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001
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Table 4.
Hierarchical Regression Analysis Summary for Perfectionism, Job Characteristics, and
Perfectionism x Job Characteristics Interactions Predicting Global Job Satisfaction
Variable B seB β
Step 1 .06
Self-oriented Perf .10 .06 .11
Socially Prescribed Perf -.26 .07 -.27***
Step 2 .37 .32
Self-oriented Perf .01 .05 .01
Socially Prescribed Perf -.10 .06 -.10
Autonomy 5.19 .60 .47***
Feedback-Job .79 .59 .08
Feedback-Agents 1.33 .45 .16**
n = 279; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001
Table 5.
Hierarchical Regression Analysis Summary for Perfectionism, Job Characteristics, and
Perfectionism x Job Characteristics Interactions Predicting Depression Symptoms
Variable B seB β
Step 1 .12
Self-oriented Perf -.09 .04 -.14*
Socially Prescribed Perf .27 .05 .38***
Step 2 .20 .09
Self-oriented Perf -.06 .04 -.10
Socially Prescribed Perf .22 .05 .31***
Autonomy -1.54 .49 -.19**
Feedback-Job -1.22 .48 -.17*
Feedback-Agents .13 .36 .02
n = 279; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001
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Table 6.
Hierarchical Regression Analysis Summary for Job Characteristics and Perfectionism
Predicting Exhaustion
Variable B seB β
Step 1 .10
Skill Variety .08 .09 .08
Task Identity .03 .07 .03
Task Significance -.18 .10 -.15
Autonomy -.21 .09 -.18*
Feedback-Job -.12 .09 -.10
Feedback-Agents -.03 .06 -.04
Step 2 .15 .05
Skill Variety .08 .08 .08
Task Identity .018 .07 .02
Task Significance -.19 .10 -.17*
Autonomy -.17 .09 -.15
Feedback-Job -.09 .09 -.08
Feedback-Agents -.01 .06 -.01
Self-oriented Perf .00 .01 -.02
Other-Oriented Perf .00 .01 -.03
Socially Prescribed Perf .03 .01 .25***
n = 279; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001
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Table 7.
Hierarchical Regression Analysis Summary for Job Characteristics and Perfectionism
Predicting Satisfaction with Work Itself
Variable B seB β
Step 1 .66
Skill Variety 4.28 .48 .44***
Task Identity .01 .40 .00
Task Significance 2.30 .58 .20***
Autonomy 2.37 .54 .20***
Feedback-Job .76 .53 .07
Feedback-Agents 1.12 .35 .13**
Step 2 .66 .01
Skill Variety 4.23 .48 .44***
Task Identity .07 .40 .01
Task Significance 2.34 .58 .20***
Autonomy 2.34 .54 .20***
Feedback-Job .67 .53 .06
Feedback-Agents 1.08 .36 .12**
Self-oriented Perf -.04 .05 -.04
Other-Oriented Perf -.01 .05 -.01
Socially Prescribed Perf -.04 .05 -.04
n = 279; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001
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Table 8.
Hierarchical Regression Analysis Summary for Job Characteristics and Perfectionism
Predicting Global Job Satisfaction
Variable B seB β
Step 1 .48
Skill Variety 2.05 .55 .23***
Task Identity .21 .45 .02
Task Significance 2.73 .66 .25***
Autonomy 3.10 .62 .28***
Feedback-Job -.32 .61 -.03
Feedback-Agents 1.25 .40 .15**
Step 2 .49 .01
Skill Variety 2.02 .55 .23***
Task Identity .24 .46 .03
Task Significance 2.81 .66 .26***
Autonomy 2.94 .62 .27***
Feedback-Job -.40 .61 -.04
Feedback-Agents 1.13 .41 .14**
Self-oriented Perf .02 .05 .03
Other-Oriented Perf .00 .06 .00
Socially Prescribed Perf -.11 .05 -.11*
n = 279; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001
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Table 9.
Hierarchical Regression Analysis Summary for Job Characteristics and Perfectionism
Predicting Depression Symptoms
Variable B seB β
Step 1 .17
Skill Variety -.38 .50 -.06
Task Identity -.83 .41 -.13*
Task Significance -1.38 .60 -.18*
Autonomy -1.00 .56 -.13
Feedback-Job -.49 .55 -.07
Feedback-Agents -.09 .37 -.02
Step 2 .25 .08
Skill Variety -.33 .48 -.05
Task Identity -.88 .39 -.14*
Task Significance -1.58 .57 -.20**
Autonomy -.68 .54 -.09
Feedback-Job -.32 .53 -.04
Feedback-Agents .19 .35 .03
Self-oriented Perf -.03 .05 -.05
Other-Oriented Perf -.07 .05 -.09
Socially Prescribed Perf .24 .05 .34***
n = 279; * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001
... Self-oriented perfectionism involves setting unrealistic, exacting selfstandards, as well as stringently evaluating and censuring one's behavior. This dimension also entails a strong motivation to attain perfection and avoid failure (Fairlie & Flett, 2003). Self-oriented Perfectionism is the self-initiated requirement for one to be perfect (RHR International Company, 2007). ...
... Self-oriented Perfectionism is the self-initiated requirement for one to be perfect (RHR International Company, 2007). Other-oriented perfectionism involves setting unrealistic standards for significant others, placing importance on the perfection of others, and stringently evaluating others' performance (Fairlie & Flett, 2003). Other-oriented Perfectionism is the requirement that others should be Perfect (RHR International Company, 2007). ...
... Individuals who are high in socially prescribed perfectionism perceive themselves to be the subjects of other people's perfectionist expectations. They believe that others evaluate them stringently and apply pressure on them to be perfect (Fairlie & Flett, 2003). Oneself to be perfect each of these behavior patterns carries its own risk for the individual and the organization (RHR International Company, 2007). ...
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Perfectionism has been receiving attention in personality psychology for many years, but only a handful of studies have investigated the effects of perfectionism in normal workplace. Perfectionism is considered a stable pattern of thinking and behavior that changes relatively little over time. The distinction between positive and negative perfectionism is grounded in behavioral theory, where a similar behavior might be associated with different emotional responses depending on whether it is a function of positive or negative reinforcement. In the professional and corporate world, perfectionism is regularly thought of by managers and employees alike as a positive trait which enables an employee to strive toward a perfect performance/product. However, there is a " dark side " of perfectionism, typically explored in and attributed to clinical populations. The " dark side " could lead to behaviors typically associated with clinical disorders, such as depression, health problems and severe stress. Although, there is not yet a model of perfectionism in the workplace, the results will help to managers and human resource management practices.
... Moreover, qualitative findings reported that perfectionism was the main factor hindering workers from returning to work after experiencing burnout (Noordik et al., 2011). Perfectionism has been shown to negatively affect the relational aspects of work (Fairlie and Flett, 2003;Dunkley et al., 2014;Mandel et al., 2018). Employees with high levels of socially prescribed perfectionism were more likely to report worsened relationships with their coworkers and supervisors (Fairlie and Flett, 2003) and avoid relationships and coworkers' support (Mandel et al., 2018). ...
... Perfectionism has been shown to negatively affect the relational aspects of work (Fairlie and Flett, 2003;Dunkley et al., 2014;Mandel et al., 2018). Employees with high levels of socially prescribed perfectionism were more likely to report worsened relationships with their coworkers and supervisors (Fairlie and Flett, 2003) and avoid relationships and coworkers' support (Mandel et al., 2018). On the contrary, a higher level of team friendship in the workplace weakened the positive association between perfectionistic concerns and job burnout (Chang et al., 2016). ...
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Background The present study examined the psychometric properties of the Big Three Perfectionism Scale–Short Form (BTPS-SF) using Rasch and Mokken item response theory (IRT) analyses, which have not previously been applied to the BTPS-SF. Materials and methods A total of 401 Italian workers ( M age = 46.78; SD = 10.1; male = 48.9%; female = 51.1%) completed the BTPS-SF questionnaire. We conducted confirmatory factor analyses of the BTPS-SF and IRT analyses using the generalized partial credit model (GPCM) and Mokken scale analysis. Discrimination and difficulty parameters were calculated. The Loevinger coefficient of scalability was computed. Item characteristic curves (ICC), test information function (TIF), and differential item functioning (DIF) for gender were calculated. Results A three-factor solution revealed the best fit. Thus, IRT analyses were performed for each BTPS-SF factor: rigid perfectionism (RP), self-critical perfectionism (SP), and narcissistic perfectionism (NP). All the items showed Loevinger coefficients from medium to strong and discrimination parameters from medium to very high. No DIF for gender was found. Conclusion The Big BTPS-SF shows good psychometric properties for Italian workers. Future research is warranted to examine the findings in workers from different countries.
... Some results of these studies are that concepts such as workaholicism (Stoeber et al., 2013;Tziner and Tanami, 2013) and burnout (Childs and Stoeber 2010) are closely related to perfectionism. Also, the other researchers mentioned that perfectionism creates low job satisfaction because it triggers intolerance behaviours against conflicts in business life (Fairlie and Flett 2003;Wittenberg and Norcross 2001). ...
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This study examines the relationship between the traits of a perfectionist personality and burnout. Perfectionists constantly set extremely high standards and make great efforts to achieve. In this regard, it can be stated that perfectionism is a concept that is closely related to burnout. The sample consisted of 158 employees working in a marble enterprise operating in the province of Burdur. As a result of the research, all hypotheses were supported. A statistically positive and significant relationship between the variables in the model was found. In other words, a significant and positive relationship was found between self-oriented perfectionism and emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment, which are the sub-scales of burnout.
... Given the degree of consensus among researchers on conceptualizing perfectionism through the twofactors model (i.e., strivings and concerns), the majority of studies has differentiated perfectionistic strivings and perfectionistic concerns when examining their relationships with burnout (e.g., Mitchelson and Burns, 1998;Stoeber, 2010, 2012;Taris et al., 2010;Caliskan et al., 2014). In this context, a number of studies found perfectionistic concerns to show positive relationships with burnout's components [exhaustion, cynicism (or depersonalization), and inefficacy], whereas perfectionistic strivings showed no significant relationships (e.g., Mitchelson and Burns, 1998;Fairlie and Flett, 2003). This same pattern was confirmed by other studies that, in addition, detected negative correlations of perfectionistic strivings with the burnout's inefficacy component (e.g., Caliskan et al., 2014;Li et al., 2014), while few studies found perfectionistic strivings to show positive correlations with burnout (Taris et al., 2010;Hrabluik et al., 2012). ...
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The current study aims at examining the relationship between the perfectionism two-factor model (i.e., concerns and strivings) and burnout dimensions measured by using the BAT (Burnout Assessment Tool) through a longitudinal study. A two-wave cross-lagged study was conducted using path analysis in SEM (Structural Equation Modeling) of 191 workers. Results confirmed the predictive role of perfectionistic concerns on the burnout dimensions, whereas perfectionistic strivings were not significantly related, suggesting that perfectionism should be monitored by employers and clinicians to prevent employee burnout. Limitations and future research directions are envisaged.
... In general, prior empirical investigations have demonstrated perfectionistic strivings as a positive and perfectionistic concerns as a negative form of perfectionism (Stoeber, 2018). Perfectionistic concerns have been strongly related to negative job attitudes such as dissatisfaction, burnout, reduced commitment, and detachment from work (Bousman, 2007;Fairlie & Flett, 2003;Gluschkoff et al., 2017). Perfectionistic strivings have been linked to desirable outcomes such as research productivity, innovative behavior, efficacy, and lower burnout (Chang, Chou, Liou, & Tu, 2016;Childs & Stoeber, 2010;Sherry, Hewitt, Sherry, Flett, & Graham, 2010). ...
Article
The current study examined how teachers’ perfectionism (personal standards [PS] and concern over mistakes [COM]) relates to their achievement goals for teaching, instructional practices (creation of mastery vs. performance classroom goal structures), job satisfaction, and flow experience during teaching. The data were collected from teachers (N = 143; mean age = 43.5; 70% female; 100% European American) practicing in the Midwestern U.S. Path analyses indicated that teachers’ high personal standards predicted endorsement of mastery goals for teaching, creation of mastery goal structure emphasizing personal progress and learning, high job satisfaction, and frequent flow experience during teaching. On the contrary, teachers’ high concern over mistakes predicted endorsement of performance‐approach and ‐avoidance goals, creation of classroom performance goal structure emphasizing competition among students, low job satisfaction, and infrequent flow experience during teaching. A significant interaction between PS and COM was found for fluency (subscale of flow) experience, indicating that PS can buffer the harmful effects of COM. Therefore, the study evidenced the benefits of PS and the drawbacks of COM.
... 2013;Tziner ve Tanami 2013), tükenmişlik Li vd. 2014) gibi kavramların mükemmeliyetçilikle çok yakın ilişkili olduğu, mükemmeliyetçiliğin iş hayatında yaşanan anlaşmazlıklara karşı hoşgörüsüzlük davranışlarını tetiklediğinden dolayı düşük iş tatmini yarattığı (Fairlie ve Flett 2003;Wittenberg ve Norcross 2001), yüksek kalitede performans sağladığı durumlarda verimliliğin ve üretkenliğin düşük olduğu (Sherry vd. 2010;Stoeber ve Eysenck 2008) gibi sonuçlar ortaya konmuştur. ...
... (2008) studied perfectionism and burnout in junior elite soccer players and found that socially prescribed perfectionism had a direct positive association and self-oriented perfectionism had a direct negative association with burnout. Fairlie and Flett (2003) focused on the impacts of perfectionism on burnout, job satisfaction, and depression. They reported that the relationship of socially prescribed perfectionism to burnout and depression symptoms were especially robust. ...
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This study investigated the relationship between perfectionism, psychological hardiness and job burnout of employees at executive organizations in Birjand County, Iran. In terms of purpose, this study is applied, and in terms of nature, it is descriptive and co relational. The population included 5000 employees and the sample composed of 356 persons according to Cochran Formula who were classified using randomized sampling. Three modified questionnaires of perfectionism, psychological hardiness, and job burnout were used to collect data. Their validities were 0.84, 0.81 and 0.77 and their reliabilities, using Chronbach's alpha, were 0.87, 0.78, and 0.86 respectively. The data were analyzed in SPSS using Spearman and Pearson correlation coefficients. Findings showed that there was a negative correlation between psychological hardiness and perfectionism as well as its dimensions in the employees. There was not a significant relationship between self-oriented and other-oriented perfectionism and job burnout. The relationship between socially prescribed perfectionism and job burnout was positive. There was a significant negative relationship between psychological hardiness and job burnout. It is recommended to hold perfectionism and psychological hardiness workshops for employees in order to decrease their job burnout and to strengthen perfectionism at a moderate and psychological hardiness at a high level.
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The pursuit of perfectionism resonates with many individuals across workplaces resulting in a recent flurry of research on the topic. While extant research has examined the costs and benefits of perfectionism at work, these efforts are scattered across multiple disciplines and utilize varying conceptualizations. As a result, we lack a coherent understanding of how perfectionism influences work behavior. To address this issue, we integrate the nascent but fragmented perfectionism at work literature, including both empirical findings and theoretical perspectives. We introduce and discuss a future research agenda that addresses not only the need to broaden understanding of perfectionism's antecedents, processes, and boundary conditions; but also its multilevel applications and methodological limitations. Our review will enable organizational scholars to develop a deeper understanding of how perfectionism renders its influence in the workplace.
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This is the third in a series of manuscripts reporting results from a research project designed to examine burnout in competitive junior tennis players. Individual differences in burnout are examined by discussing idiographic profiles from three athletes who were identified as having burned out in the earlier phases of the project. These cases were chosen as they represented different substrains of social psychologically driven and physically driven burnout. In particular, the three cases included: (a) a player characterized by high levels of perfectionism and overtraining; (b) a player who experienced pressure from others and a need for a social life; and (c) a player who was physically overtrained and had inappropriate goals. It was concluded that although important patterns result from content analyses across participants, the unique experience of each individual must be recognized.
Chapter
Depression is a disorder of the entire psychobiologic system including the emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and somatic functions. The emotional component is characterized by a blue mood involving feelings of sadness, anhedonia, guilt, irritability, and despair. The somatic symptoms include hypochrondriasis, insomnia or hypersomnia, weight gain or loss, constipation or diarrhea, fatigue, and decreased libido. The behavioral changes are characterized by passivity, lethargy, inactivity, social isolation, withdrawal from work, and avoidance of pleasurable activities.
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