If you think about the worst boss you've ever had, chances are they were a nightmare micromanager that never stopped criticising you and rarely gave you credit when it was due.

If that sounds familiar, chances are your horrible boss was a perfectionist — and alarmingly, it's a trait and a habit that is apparently on the rise.

That's according to author and workplace expert Lynne Cazaly, who told news.com.au perfectionism was wreaking havoc in offices across the world.

And it's not only perfectionist managers causing headaches — apparently, it can also end up "sabotaging" your own career if you fail to get a handle on your own perfectionist tendencies.


"Perfectionism has been called a 'favourite flaw' because it is something we think is a good thing to fess up to in job interviews — when they ask 'what's your weakness', a lot of people say 'I'm a perfectionist' because they think it's a good quality, as it means you have good attention to detail," she explained.

"But that's not necessarily the case because perfectionists spend a lot of time on things — they're often called 'maximisers' because they chase after heaps of information and research and end up taking a long time to do things, which can be really frustrating for people in a team.

"Perfectionists can also be quite critical of themselves and others as they think what has currently been done isn't good enough yet."

Cazaly said common signs of perfectionism at work could include spending hours "tinkering" with small, unimportant details of a report, over-estimating the time and effort required for a task and failing to celebrate wins.

She said perfectionists often "didn't feel good about themselves" and, as a result, set higher and higher standards to aspire to.

She said studies had shown many people who had perfectionist tendencies experienced increased stress, anxiety and even depression as well as physical health concerns such as asthma, migraines and insomnia.

"We know from the law of diminishing returns that putting in all that extra effort doesn't bring an equal return — the effort being put in becomes wasteful," she said.

Cazaly said perfectionism could cause problems for bosses and workers lower down the pecking order.


"Most people probably have a story of working for a perfectionist boss, but it might have only been for a short time — there's a saying that people don't leave companies, they leave leaders, and that's because we don't like working with someone who constantly micromanagers and criticises," she said.

"Perfectionist bosses are difficult and make people feel they are working for them, not with them, as a lackey or a minion rather than a team member," she said.

Workplaces with perfectionist managers may experience a high turnover as well as absenteeism and disengaged staff because "nothing is ever good enough" and they are "always finding problems".

"Workers can start feeling disenfranchised and might start looking for another role," Cazaly said.

When it comes to everyday workers, a sign of perfectionism might be a reluctance to share or show work before it is completed as well as consistently working back late and taking work home.

"It can end up sabotaging your career. Perfectionists don't like to take risks and prefer to work in areas they know will succeed, so they might not step out and take those risks that can advance their careers," Cazaly said.

"It can also impact other team members by slowing down the delivery of things that hinge on you finishing your work on time, and when you're not doing that, it doesn't look good during performance reviews — it is not good for your career progression."

Cazaly said it was important to get on top of destructive perfectionist behaviour, but it wasn't about "lowering standards or accepting failure".

Instead, it was important to find new ways of working — such as working in increments and testing early and often — to avoid getting bogged down in the overall task and getting off track.

She said research had revealed perfectionism was on the rise, as society tended to expect more and more out of others.

But she said the most important way of managing the problem was awareness.

"Be alert to it — if you find yourself overworking and if you keep fiddling and tinkering on something, just pause and consider whether it might be good enough as it is to test on someone else," she said.

"If you continue to work without that awareness, and start working extra hours, that's where the problem often starts."