The cancer of perfectionism in corporate culture

Warning: The language of this post will probably offend some people, especially those people in office who have subordinates and take this culture as taken for granted.

From my experience in interacting with my former classmates during college and my church friends, most of them have only unpleasant things to talk about their works. Usually, most of them complained about long working hours, unrealistic demands from their bosses, and lack of appreciation to work that they have done (meaning they got blame if they did things wrong but they never got any praise if they did something right).

But why is it so? Why is it so hard to be appreciative to our work? I believe those things mentioned above are just the symptom of the root cause. I think it is important to find the root cause since we will spend probably around half of our life in the office. Is it really like what your boss said that you are just not capable enough, intelligent enough or fast enough? Is it why you are not happy and enjoying your work?

Fortunately, it is not. You are not the only one to blame. It is because a little dirty philosophy behind your office environment: perfectionism. Your biggest boss demand perfection from his subordinates, and his subordinates demand another perfection from his own subordinates and so on. And since no one is and can be perfect, all workers in corporate ladder except the very top one will be miserable since they are told by their bosses that they do not ‘fulfill expectation’.

I was just reprimanded by my project manager because my supervisor saw me see view statistic on my blog twice. Probably in her mind, when she saw me waited for my program to compile for around 1-2 minutes and browse to only see statistic on my blog, then she thought I was lazy. During discussion with my project manager after work, it seems that they expected me to use office hours with 100% efficiency that any browsing even for 1-2 minutes is deemed as ‘waste of resource’ although I practically cannot do anything while waiting my program to compile.

In this post, I want to expose the unrealistic demands that are usually asked by your boss and taught you how to reply to such expectation.

1. 100% efficiency. Back to my manager that said we should be efficient during office hours and that’s why I was reprimanded for seeing my blog’s statistics for 1-2 minutes while waiting my program to compile. He said I was ‘wasting resources’. He was right but unfortunately everybody in the office also wasted resources. If I strictly defined ‘wasting office resources’ as doing personal things in office hours even for 1 minutes, I will say that doing the following things are supposed to be illegal:

  • Replying sms from family
  • Eating and drinking snacks
  • Going to pantry to collect hot or cold water
  • Going to toilet during office hours
  • Stretching and yawning
  • Talking about upcoming events (such as New Year or Christmas)
  • Increase or decrease air-con temperature

So next time your boss demand 100% efficiency from you during work, you should reprimand him back when he did such things. If he somehow replies that only you should do such thing because you are worker (aka slave) and not him (because he belongs to ‘elite’ who do not need to obey or do his own demand to himself) then you immediately knew that your boss is no different from tyrannical politicians such of this country who want to have total control to all citizens but they are not subject to any accountability.

2. 100% accuracy. Another unhealthy thing, especially for software engineer, is demand to get their program 100% free of any bugs. This thing is not only unrealistic but also impossible. There is no single commercial program in software industry that is free of bugs (except probably ‘Hello World’ program). Even program from big IT companies such as Microsoft, Apple and Google have A LOT of bugs.

Since even such big companies also released updates and patches to fix bugs, next time your boss pinpoint 1 or 2 mistakes which you have done, you should clarify his expectation. If somehow he reveals that you should be correct 100% every time, then probably you should ask whether when he wrote source code he did it 100% correctly every time. If he said yes, then you knew that he is lying. If he said no, ask him back then why does he expect you to do 100% accuracy when he himself cannot do it.

Furthermore, typically your boss asks for 100% accuracy from you, but he himself does not subject to the same standard. Your boss can give wrong, unclear, incomplete or changing requirements but he is not accountable to you or to his boss. How can we are expected to do our job with 100% accuracy while they themselves do not subject to 100% accuracy when giving instructions and requirements?

If he somehow replies that only you should do such thing because you are worker (aka slave) and not him (because he belongs to ‘elite’ who do not need to obey or do his own demand to himself), you knew what to say already.

3. 100% completion. It is not common that there is implicit expectation for workers to do all their works within designated timeline. They are expected to complete their tasks no matters how frequent the requirement change from clients. Typically, your boss assume that since he (who has around 3-4 years more work experience than you) is able to finish within 2 weeks, you are also expected to finish the same task within 2 weeks.

But such case is of course unreasonable. Just because your boss can finish it within 2 weeks, it does not follow that you also should finish the same task within the same amount of time. After all, if he expects us to do such things why don’t he just employ someone who has the same amount of experience as him? If he already accepted you into his company with all your capabilities, it is his job to estimate timeline to suit our capability to do the job, not his ability.

And furthermore, just because the worker cannot complete his job within specified timeline, it does not necessarily mean that he is lazy or incompetent. I would say that it is more likely that the managements and/or clients have set improper deadline. And also typically there will be some requirement change along the way, why are we expected to finish within the same time frame? If you want to be fair, client should pay the price for requirement change. Ask them deadline extension or even pay additional charge for it. It is their own doing so it is not fair to expect workers to carry the burden.

In summary, I think it is not right to expect perfection since no body can be perfect. It also will create negative effects such as blaming game, hostility, and distrust among office workers, managements, and clients. Since we spend half of our life in the office, why don’t we be more gracious and tolerant so that everybody can feel comfortable and not continuously anxious? I am not advocating worker to become lazy. I just want realistic standard that can be achieved and not perfection.

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About edwin2026

I am currently Indonesian expatriate working in Singapore, graduated from Nanyang Technological University with major in Computer Science in 2009. I am also working as software engineer, developing and maintaining systems for Singapore civil service. I write this blog to share to readers about my life principle on various aspects, like religion, politics, business, relationship, and technology. I am interested in alternative worldviews because I found that many things taught to us by establishments are not true and harmful. My dream is to become self-sufficient in food and energy. Hopefully, someday I can have my own fruit garden and my own power plant and able to sell my electricity to power company. I hope readers enjoy my blog.
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One Response to The cancer of perfectionism in corporate culture

  1. write2sketch says:

    Good post. Relates to real life pretty closely.

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