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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The “P” Problem

Why you should avoid people-pleasing, perfectionism and procrastination in the workplace.

The “P” Problem

Employees who want advancement opportunities, job satisfaction and work-life balance had better not “P” on the job.

There are three specific P’s to avoid: people-pleasing, perfectionism and procrastination. These behaviors prevent folks from performing optimally and experiencing joy at work. And if workers use their skills and talents to benefit an employer, “they have a right to enjoy the process,” says Brookline, Mass.-based strategic planning consultant Allison Rimm, who identifies the three P’s as problematic on her website.

But with that right come responsibilities. It’s important that employees recognize when their own behaviors are stunting their potential, and why. The three P’s are just a starting point.


Some people are stricken with “the disease to please, or a hard time saying no,” Rimm says. “Women in particular tend to have this problem, but plenty of men do, too.”

But if a sufferer says yes to everything, something has to give. It may start with sleep, exercise and family time but will inevitably affect work because the employee can only do a thorough job on so many things. By that point, the pattern of missed deadlines and subpar performance is far from pleasing.

To help break the habit and activate the “no muscle,” Rimm tells people to ask themselves “why” five times when they feel tempted or pressured to take on yet another role or responsibility. For example, if Andy asks Amelia to lead a volunteer committee, she should ask five times why she feels she should say yes although it’s her busiest time at work.

Amelia’s thought process might go like this: Why do I think I must do this? Because it’s a good cause. But I volunteer already so why is this important? Because I want look supportive. Why? So others will think highly of me. Why is that important? Because people who are liked and respected get promoted. But why these people and this nonessential role?

The exercise leads Amelia to the realization that she is trying to impress the wrong people, and the volunteer post, worthy as it is, won’t demonstrate that she’s qualified for a promotion. It’s easier for her to tell Andy no and devote her time to work that matters.


Perfectionism is pernicious not only to the individual but also the organization as a whole. It prevents people from acting decisively and getting things done because the “perfect” solution or outcome they seek of course doesn’t exist.

Perfectionists are perennially overworked because they’re afraid to delegate to others who might not perform to their standards. When they do delegate, they are wont to micromanage and criticize. Afraid of exposing knowledge gaps, they are reluctant to ask for assistance or advice. In other words, “They don’t make use of available resources,” Rimm says.

For all these reasons, leadership positions elude perfectionists despite all their efforts.

Recovering perfectionists must keep in mind the high price of their previous behavior. Consequences extend beyond work and, perhaps ironically, perfectionism applied to any one area tends to send destructive shock waves to other areas. For example, striving to be the “perfect” employee means long hours at work and irritability at home, which puts personal relationships at risk.


Perfectionism and procrastination “often go hand in glove,” Rimm says, so addressing one issue may help resolve the other.

Many perfectionists put off tasks because they fear they’ll fall short of their own exceedingly high standards, which to them represents an outright failure.

Perfectionism isn’t always to blame, though. Procrastination often occurs when a task is so small as to seem insignificant (paying a bill) or so big that it’s daunting (preparing taxes). In the latter case, procrastinators sometimes don’t even know where to start.

“Just do something. Make an opening move of any kind,” says Tony Lee, publisher of the job search site

Or use Lee’s “Swiss cheese method” to sustain momentum by achieving a series of small successes: “You don’t need to commit a big block of time all at once. Think of several easy tasks that can be done in 10 minutes or less.”

Success begets success, he adds, and emboldens people to move on to bigger things.