Self-Oriented Versus Socially Prescribed Perfectionism: Effects on Work Engagement and Exhaustion

German researchers Emily Kleszewski and Kathleen Otto conducted a study to understand the effects of different forms of perfectionism on employee well-being. To design their research, they relied on a combination of the literature on perfectionism and the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) to investigate this. It turned out that different forms of perfectionism have different effects on our well-being at work.

Two dimensions of perfectionism

Perfectionism is considered in this study as a two-dimensional phenomenon, namely self-oriented perfectionism (SOP) and socially prescribed perfectionism (SPP). SOP is the pursuit of high personal standards, while SPP is characterized by external pressures to be flawless. Both forms of perfectionism have different effects on employee well-being, largely determined by the satisfaction or lack of satisfaction of the three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

Design of the study

The researchers collected data through an online survey of full-time and part-time employees in Germany. They did this in two rounds, three months apart. The employees completed questionnaires about perfectionism, satisfaction of needs and well-being. For example, the researchers investigated the relationship between perfectionism, the satisfaction of basic needs and well-being in the workplace.

The first survey (T1) involved 328 employees, while the second measurement moment (T2) involved 138 employees. Using path analysis, the researchers examined the relationships between the various variables.

Results: The Impact of Perfectionism

The figure below shows the results of the path analysis:

The results show that Self-Oriented Perfectionism and Socially Prescribed Perfectionism have different effects on the satisfaction of basic needs, which in turn influences work engagement, exhaustion and job satisfaction.

  • Socially prescribed perfectionism -> lower autonomy satisfaction -> lower work involvement.
  • Socially prescribed perfectionism -> lower connectedness satisfaction -> more exhaustion.
  • Self-oriented perfectionism -> higher competence satisfaction

No significant effects of self-oriented perfectionism were found on job involvement, job satisfaction and exhaustion.

Implications: Perfectionism and Basic Needs

This research shows the relationships between perfectionism, satisfaction of basic needs and well-being at work. It also shows that different types of perfectionism have different effects. Socially prescribed perfectionism hinders the satisfaction of basic needs, reduces work involvement and increases the likelihood of exhaustion. These negative outcomes were not found for self-oriented perfectionism. A positive relationship with competence satisfaction was even found.


The interesting thing about this study, in my opinion, is that your reason for your perfectionism influences how its effects are. If this has to do with external pressure, the risk of damage is much greater than when it has to do with internal pressure.

► I personally think it is wise to let go of perfectionism. Perfection does not exist and is therefore an unattainable goal. I would like to suggest two alternatives for consideration: Excellencism and Optimalism.