Perfectionists Are More Likely to Burn Out, Extensive Study Suggests

woman with head in hands

People with perfectionist traits are more susceptible to burnout, according to new research, and it is not just work-related stress that is the cause.

Christmas is coming. We have all endured a global pandemic. There are coughs and colds everywhere. Bills are mounting. It is safe to say we are all exhausted – but when does tiredness tip into burnout?

An expert in mental health and mood disorders has been studying the phenomenon of burnout closely for several years. The extensive research has now been released in the first complete self-help guide to burnout.

The study highlights some of the warning signs of burnout and suggests that people who tend to be perfectionists are more likely to veer into burnout due to their own ‘unrelenting standards’.

What is burnout?

With the worries accompanying pandemic lockdowns, the pressures of inflation and other life stressors, many people are feeling at the end of their tether.

For some people, the cumulative effect of these prolonged periods of stress can result in burnout.

Unlike normal tiredness, the experts suggest burnout symptoms include constant exhaustion, emotional numbness and confusion at home or in the workplace.

Some conventional tools used to diagnose burnout focus on work-related stress, however mental health expert and lead author Professor Gordon Parker suggests that the impact is much more extensive.

Professor Parker said: “Most people consider burnout to be extreme tiredness, but in our studies we have found that the symptoms are much more wide-ranging.

“People struggling with burnout also suffer from cognitive dysfunction, sometimes known as ‘brain fog’ and disconnection from their friends and family, as well as the more typically-recognised reduced performance in work and tasks around the home.”

Who is most likely to burn out?

Burnout is widespread among high achievers in the workplace – but is becoming increasingly more prevalent in personal lives.

Professor Parker said: “Most people think that burnout is a work problem. Actually, we found that stress experienced at work or at home can set the wheels of burnout in motion.

“Our analyses indicated that burnout may also develop as a result of predisposing personality traits, especially perfectionism.

“People with perfectionistic traits are usually excellent workers, as they’re extremely reliable and conscientious. However, they’re also prone to burnout as they set unrealistic and unrelenting standards for their own performance, which are ultimately impossible to live up to.”

What can be done about it?

Professor Parker is the founder of the Black Dog Institute, which conducts research into mood disorders and works to remove the social stigmas around mental illness.

During his extensive research on burnout, and with decades of clinical work under his belt, he has determined how to best identify and manage it.

This research is outlined in a recently published book – Burnout: A Guide to Identifying Burnout and Pathways to Recovery.

Critically, the book offers a guide for navigating out of burnout, including identifying sources and coping strategies to minimise the impact of stress.

It contains new evidence-based tools for readers to work out for themselves whether they have burnout and generate a plan for recovery based on their personal situation.

Chapters help readers recognise their own burnout patterns and provide approaches to help them regain their passions and build their resilience.



Burnout: A Guide to Identifying Burnout and Pathways to Recovery

By Gordon Parker, Gabriela Tavella, Kerrie Eyers

Published December 30, 2022 

252 Pages

Paperback: 9781032358963 | $24.95 | £18.99

Hardback: 9781032367729 | $160.00 | £120.00

eBook: 9781003333722| $24.95 | £18.99


About The Author

Professor Gordon Parker, AO, is a clinical psychiatrist and Scientia Professor of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. He previously headed university and hospital departments and was founder of the Black Dog Institute. He was the recipient of the Australian Mental Health Prize in 2020.

Gabriela Tavella is a research officer at University of New South Wales and is completing a PhD on burnout.

Kerrie Eyers, AM, is a psychologist and writer.


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