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3 Ways Perfectionistic Managers Discourage Employees

Perfectionism can undermine psychological safety in the workplace.

Key points

  • Perfectionistic managers can disrupt the work culture and undermine the psychological safety of a workplace.
  • One aspect of perfectionism, cognitive inflexibility, creates rigid and excessive goals for teams to meet.
  • Bosses carry out safety behaviors to reduce perfectionistic anxiety and can rope in the entire team.
  • Perfectionistic leaders can show high levels of stinginess, which can demoralize workers.

Employees often find it discouraging to work for perfectionistic managers. This often creates a problematic workplace culture and tense team dynamics. Perfectionistic managers undermine healthy levels of psychological safety, which is a crucial characteristic of a work environment.

Psychological safety reflects the degree to which employees feel secure enough in the organizational environment to take interpersonal risks.1 Examples of such risks include providing honest feedback to coworkers, asking for clarifications, voicing opinions to leadership, and expressing ideas without hesitation.

According to meta-analytic research, the construct of psychological safety is connected to myriad helpful outcomes. Examples include better employee innovation, less burnout, higher job satisfaction, and stronger efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.2

Below, I describe three reasons why working for a perfectionistic manager is discouraging for employees and becomes problematic for psychological safety: cognitive rigidity (i.e., inflexible thinking and difficulty shifting mindsets), safety behaviors (i.e., anxiety-driven escape, avoidance, and ritualistic behaviors), and stinginess. Cognitive rigidity and safety behaviors are core features of perfectionism.3

Cognitive Rigidity

Perfectionistic bosses hold themselves (i.e., self-oriented) and others (i.e., other-oriented) to standards that are impossible to meet or are excessive relative to industry standards. Their mindset might seem so fixed that it feels like it would take an act of war to move it. Their expectations are robust to changing circumstances (e.g., short-staffed for a day) and new contexts (e.g., selling a new product). They may have low self-awareness and not appreciate the unreasonableness of the expectations. Alternatively, they may have insight into the unreasonableness but feel unable to waver.

For employees asked to meet unreasonable and rigid expectations, it can feel like a never-ending marathon with little to no reward along the way. The goals seem insurmountable. It’s demoralizing to work at an extreme level without having the satisfaction of meeting goals and reaping the benefits of doing so. These perfectionistic expectations permeate the climate of a workplace and sour the team dynamic.

Safety Behaviors

Bosses with perfectionism will invariably carry out safety behaviors to deal with mounting anxiety around their performance and the performance of their team. This is true even in the case of the supervisor ultimately delivering high-quality projects. Safety behaviors often consist of reviewing and rehashing the details of work products and returning products compulsively to employees for fixing or improvement. While these behaviors are standard job duties of a supervisor, they present in an extreme manner. They go well beyond what’s reasonable for the purpose of the project and its stakes.

These tendencies typically rope in the entire team. It can become a group-wide affair to handle a supervisor’s full inventory of safety behaviors. The entire culture of the organization or division might be built on a supervisor’s avoidance, escape, and ritualizing behavior. Think of the movie tropes of the personal assistant having a coffee and dry cleaning ready to go for their boss at the same time each morning. Now imagine that type of employee responsiveness but with safety behaviors. Employees can become miserable fulfilling their boss’s every perfectionistic demand like automatons.


Individuals with perfectionism often exhibit a tendency toward being parsimonious with their spending. When dealing with a perfectionistic boss, this can take many forms, but it often feels like penny-pinching. Office resources may feel thin because a perfectionistic supervisor micromanages the budget and refuses to spend the necessary amount of money to ensure a comfortable baseline.

Sometimes, it’s necessary for an organization or division to tighten the belt. This is not the circumstance that I’m describing. I’m referring to the perfectionistic boss who maintains a constant worldview and behavior shaped by parsimony.

If the supervisor has control over salary and benefits, perfectionism can be particularly problematic. As a result of stinginess, employees may be underpaid and have a difficult time fighting for equitable pay raises consonant with industry standards. Perfectionistic managers may resist grassroots efforts to address salary compression. Inequitable pay kills workplace morale and builds tremendous resentment toward coworkers, management, and the organization. This is further exacerbated by high rates of turnover that occur from a systemic undervaluing of human capital.

A boss’s cognitive rigidity, safety behaviors, and stinginess contribute to a demoralizing workplace culture that can undermine job satisfaction. It also sabotages psychological safety by discouraging risk-taking, innovation, and healthy communication.

Luckily, there are strategies that employees and leadership can take to reduce the adverse impact of perfectionism on the workplace. These strategies can leverage the positive features of perfectionism—such as loyalty, honesty, and conscientiousness5—while reducing its negative effects that can discourage employees.

Adapted excerpts from Flawed: Why Perfectionism Is a Challenge for Management.


1. Edmondson, Amy C. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2018.

2. Edmondson, Amy C., and Derrick P. Bransby. “Psychological Safety Comes of Age: Observed Themes in an Established Literature.” Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior 10, no. 1 (2023): 55–78.

3. Egan, Sarah J., Tracey D. Wade, Roz Shafran, and Martin M. Antony. Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Perfectionism. New York, NY: The Guilford Press, 2014.

4. Chasson, Greg. Flawed: Why Perfectionism is a Challenge for Management. Oak Park, IL: Translational Mental Health Press, 2024.

5. Stoeber, Joachim. “Dyadic Perfectionism in Romantic Relationships: Predicting Relationship Satisfaction and Longterm Commitment.” Personality and Individual Differences 53, no. 3 (August 2012): 300–305.

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