“I tried to please as best as I could, you know? Knowing full well, though, that no matter what I did, it would never, it would never be enough, you know? …I would be anxious about, you know, making sure that all my bases were covered, all my I’s were dotted and all my T’s were crossed, you know, and it made me focus on everything that I was doing at the same time. Well, I was probably trying to do too much. But I felt obligated to take on more …” – Low morale study participant (Male, cataloger)
The low-morale experience is impacted by numerous enabling systems, one of which is Uncertainty and Mistrust. This enabling system is particularly harsh because it appears at the start of the low-morale experience (the trigger event) and continues even if workplace abuse is completely resolved.
One of the ways participants dealt with uncertainty was trying to anticipate or meet every demand of their abuser/bully. In particular, participants who were targeted or who were on the receiving end of poor communication channels were more likely to create and implement protocols that manifested symptoms of perfectionism. The Centre for Clinical Intervention (n.d.) states that perfectionism has three key parts:
- The relentless striving for extremely high standards;
- Judging [one’s] self-worth based largely on [an] ability to strive for and achieve such unrelenting standards; and
- Experiencing negative consequences of setting such demanding standards, yet continuing to go for them despite the huge cost [to the self].
Coping strategies include conscious and unconscious positive or negative behaviors (Kendrick 2017), and participants who experienced low-morale and gravitated to perfectionist coping strategies noted that even though they never received validation for their work – and in some cases, were punished for it – they created even higher standards hoping to please their abuser/bully. As a result, they developed negative mental health impacts, including anxiety and depression.
Shame researcher Brenè Brown (2013) notes that perfectionism can also be contextualized within vulnerability. She notes, “It’s… a way of thinking and feeling that says this: ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.’” Read more on my thoughts about shame and the LIS low-morale experience.
Due to a mix of external and internal factors, perfectionism in the low-morale experience can be especially difficult to overcome; however, many resources share common strategies to reducing effects:
- changing negative self-talk to positive affirmations
- recognizing and accepting realistic outcomes of plans and decisions
- taking time to relax (including true “free-time” and physical health regimens)
Did perfectionism show up in your low-morale experience? How did it manifest? How did you reduce it?
Brown, B. (2013). Overcoming perfectionism: Brene Brown talks perfection and authenticity with Oprah. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/29/brene-brown-daring-greatly-perfectionism-oprah_n_3468501.html
Centre for Clinical Interventions (n.d.) Module 1: What is Perfectionism? Retrieved from http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/docs/1%20What%20is%20%20Perfectionism.pdf
Kendrick, K.D. (2017). The low morale experience in academic librarians: A phenomenological study. Journal of Library Administration, 57(8): 846 – 878. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01930826.2017.1368325