When work is everything: Coping with institutionalized perfectionism

About the Research

Perfectionism is defined as “a tendency to set unrealistically high standards of performance [and is associated with] biased and overcritical evaluations of the self and others” (Ocampo, Wang, Kiazad, Restubog, & Ashkanasy, 2020: 144).  While researchers of occupations have alluded to perfectionism in their studies (e.g., Michel, 2011), prior research on perfectionism, has tended to treat it as an individual level construct (e.g., personality trait). This research has recognized that perfectionism can lead to either positive and negative outcomes for both people and their work, though the darker side of perfectionism has been more closely attended to. Yet, it is important to acknowledge that some occupations normalize or even demand perfectionism from those who wish to enter and succeed in them. Research offers some hints about how occupations may socialize workers into the institutional norms of perfectionism (e.g., Burrow, Smith, & Yakinthou, 2015; Michel, 2011). But we lack an understanding of how workers maintain their commitment and ability to function in such fields. We argue that perfectionism should be seen not only as a personality trait, but also an orientation toward work that is – at least partly – embedded in institutional norms of a community. This study aims to understand the interplay between the occupational norms and workers’ response.

This paper makes the following contributions. First, we complement the individual-focused research on perfectionism by highlighting the role institutional norms in promoting – or even, demanding – perfectionism from workers, despite the fact that the well-known “darker” side of perfectionism. Second, we contribute to the research on inhabited institutions (Hallett, 2010; Hallett & Ventresca, 2006) that has emphasized that institutions exist to the extent that there are people who inhabit them and make them experientially real (Voronov & Weber, 2020). Yet, our study helps to understand better the struggles by which the inhabiting process unfolds – in a provisional and tentative manner. Third, we contribute to the literature on occupations (Anteby, Chan, & DiBenigno, 2016) by explaining how and why people might persist in an occupation that is detrimental to their mental and physical wellbeing.

About Maxim Voronov

I am Professor of Organization Studies and Sustainability at the Schulich School of Business, York University, Toronto.

My research: I conduct research on the dynamics of social change at organizational, industry and societal levels. I am especially interested in how people and organizations deploy cultural resources to bring about or resist social change. I have studied the role of emotions in social change, the role of social movements in creating popular support for local products, and organizations’ efforts to promote new ideas. I am currently conducting several projects that examine the role of authenticity in business and in society at large. I am also studying organizational and societal responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. My work appears or is forthcoming in such leading management journals as Academy of Management ReviewAcademy of Management JournalJournal of Management Studies, and Harvard Business Review, among others.

My professional involvement: I am a Senior Editor at Organization Studies. I am also currently serving on the editorial boards of Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Management Studies, and Research in the Sociology of Organizations.

My awards and distinctions: I am a recipient of Schulich Research Excellence Fellowship. My awards and distinctions include Emerald Citation of Excellence Award, and Best Paper from International Small Business Journal. My 2012 Academy of Management Review article (with Russ Vince) was a finalist for the Academy of Management’s OMT Division’s Best Published Paper Award. I have received Best Reviewer Awards from Academy of Management ReviewAcademy of Management Journal and Journal of Management Studies.

Date: Thursday 20 October, 2022

Time: 12:00-13:30 CET

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