Page last updated at 23:00 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 00:00 UK

Perfectionism hits working women

Woman at work
Women in the study had perfectionist tendencies

Women are more likely than men to suffer feelings of inadequacy at home and at work, say US researchers.

A study of 288 adults found that a higher proportion of women felt they did not meet their own high standards with family and workplace commitments.

Such perfectionism can have a negative effect on the work-life balance, the authors said.

The findings are published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.

Those taking part in the study had to work at least 20 hours a week and have family commitments.

Most people were married and 80% had at least one child living at home.

None of the research I've seen which splits perfectionism into these groups has found a gender difference so it was completely unexpected
Dr Jacqueline Mitchelson

Statements included in the questionnaire included: "the time I spend with my families interferes with my work responsibilities"; and "when I get home from work I am usually too frazzled to participate in family activities".

Respondents were categorised into those who set themselves very high standards but felt they did not meet them, those who set high personal standards and were happy with their performance, and non-perfectionists.

At work, 38% of women did not feel they met the high standards they set themselves, compared with 24% of men.

When it came to home and family life, 30% of women felt they were failing to meet the standards they wanted to compared with 17% of men.

In both groups more men than women were classed as perfectionists who were happy with their achievements.

Gender difference

Study author Dr Jacqueline Mitchelson, assistant professor in psychology at Auburn University in Alabama, said she had not expected to find a difference between men and women.

"None of the research I've seen which splits perfectionism into groups has found a gender difference so it was completely unexpected.

"I'm not sure where it comes from, and we need more research."

She added that one area of interest was whether mixed messages in society about women needing to stay at home more to look after the children but also going out to work and having a career were related to the findings.

Professor Cary Cooper, an expert in organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University, said women often felt very guilty when juggling work and home commitments.

"They have what we call the double shift - trying to juggle working and competing at work and then carrying out duties at home with men only helping at the margins.

"They then feel guilty that they're not doing well at work because of home commitments and they're not doing well at home because of work commitments."

He added: "Women suffer from perfectionism. They tend to be more conscientious, working to 100%."



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