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How Perfectionism Leads to Burnout

Do you find yourself setting incredibly high standards for yourself or experience fear of making mistakes in front of others? We often find ourselves setting these high standards in academic settings and the workplace. But can these perfectionistic attitudes be detrimental to our emotional wellbeing? Research suggests that this may potentially be the case. It demonstrates that perfectionists are more inclined to be workaholics, and as a result of this workaholic approach, experience an increased likelihood of burnout.¹

Stressed woman leaning on top of building
Photo by Hernan Sanchez on Unsplash

Perfectionist Qualities

It is important to figure out the behaviors perfectionists are likely to exhibit.

Qualities that perfectionists exhibit are:

All or nothing thinking: All or nothing thinking is thinking completion of a task can either be a total success or failure; perfectionists cannot accept anything less than perfect. They view anything with flaws as a failure, which affects their self-esteem and well being.

Harsh criticism: As a result of adopting all or nothing thinking, perfectionists are highly critical of themselves when they make mistakes. Perfectionists are more inclined to adopt judgmental and overly critical thinking.

Being result-oriented: Perfectionists tend to view the destination, instead of the journey, as the most important part of their project. Perfectionists are so focused on fulfilling the goal, that the destination is more important than the growth experienced during the journey.

Fearing failure: Failure is a predominant fear for perfectionists because they have invested mental energy in a given task.

Procrastination: Perfectionists are more inclined to procrastinate because they want to avoid failure. They may focus on the small details until the last minute or become so anxious about a task, that they may end up not fulfilling the task.²

Man stressed with laptop
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Two Types of Perfectionism

It is also important to identify the two types of perfectionists: self-oriented and socially prescribed. Self-oriented perfectionists behave by setting high standards for themselves. Socially prescribed perfectionists hold these same standards. In addition, they will believe that others will accept them because they fulfill these standards.³ Socially prescribed perfectionists are more likely to experience burnout because, in addition to fulfilling their high standards, they want to please others by excelling in their performance.

The Relationship between Perfectionism and Burnout

Workaholism is positively correlated with increased emotional exhaustion. Why is this? This can be explained through perfectionists demonstrating behavioral patterns of draining their mental energy, impacting their performance. This is especially true of individuals who fear making mistakes in front of others. Research shows that individuals who experience neuroticism and lower levels of extraversion are more likely to experience burnout. It also shows that workaholics are more likely to experience higher levels of stress and physical and psychological problems, resulting in increased susceptibility to burnout.⁴ It is important to realize that setting high standards for yourself is an advantageous attitude, but we must keep in mind at what cost are we willing to fulfill these high standards. Setting goals and expectations is crucial to achievement, but we must not exhaust ourselves excessively in the process; achievements can be made by setting small goals and patting ourselves on the back for fulfilling these goals.



  1. Tarris, Toon W, et al. “Why Do Perfectionists Have a Higher Burnout Risk than Others? The Mediational Effect of Workaholism.” Romanian Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 12, no. 1, 2010, pp. 1–7.

  2. Scott, E. (n.d.). 10 Telltale Signs You May Be a Perfectionist. Retrieved August 29, 2020, from

  3. Tarris, Toon W, et al. “Why Do Perfectionists Have a Higher Burnout Risk than Others? The Mediational Effect of Workaholism.” Romanian Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 12, no. 1, 2010, pp. 1–7.

  4. Ibid.


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