The challenges of work for Highly Sensitive People and how to overcome these.

Facing the prospect of yet another humiliating ‘progress review’ at work, I decided that the time was right once again to quit my job and look for an alternative career. Only this time I wasn’t going to repeat the cycle and try to get back on the hamster wheel of traditional 9-5 work. Having already been forced to leave 3 previous jobs before I was sacked or deemed ‘unsuitable for the position’ had taken its toll on my self esteem and energy and I was NOT going to let it happen again.

I always struggled to understand why I never seemed able to find the right job for me. I have a strong academic record and always thought I was quite an easy person to get along with as I’m fairly quiet and laid back about life. Nonetheless, the only places I have ever fitted in or not had comments made about my people skills/performance have been shops or warehouses, but even then, it’s been patchy. I don’t mind the work, but the thought of spending the rest of my life dealing with tricky customers and making someone else wealthy while I struggle to get by on a meagre wage, doesn’t fill me with joy. I know that it would not meet the expectations of my family and friends either, as they all frequently remind me that I am ‘capable of more’.

When I discovered the idea (after many wasted hours googling and job searching, hoping that inspiration would strike) that some people are naturally ‘highly sensitive’ and how having these characteristics affects their daily lives, it was like everything suddenly made sense. I realised that there wasn’t anything ‘wrong’ with me, I simply had not paid enough attention to my own needs and this is something which I needed to change when deciding my next career move. Obviously, I still need to be mindful of whether I have sufficient qualifications and experience when applying to different positions, but now I have a lot more to take into account too; such as what is the office environment like? How many people will be on my team? How much of the day would be sat in front of a screen and even, how long will I get for lunch? Taking time out to pause and reflect has been extremely empowering and eye-opening, as I have gained a whole new understanding about who I am, when I am most productive and how I will succeed when I eventually decided to return to work. Here are some elements relating to my personal journey, which other HSPs may also find challenging at work and therefore want to avoid.

Criticism and Pressure

I, like many other HSPs do not cope well with receiving criticism from others, so working in an environment where there are regular performance reviews, unless you are really good at and enthusiastic about your job, is not going to make you happy. If you are career driven and ambitious, it might be worth looking into strategies or attending workshops to help build up your resilience, as the world of business can be relentless and often does not consider the needs of its budding highly sensitive entrepreneurs.

Noise and Lighting

It might sound obvious, but even basic working conditions can have a massive impact on productivity. I, for instance simply cannot concentrate in an atmosphere which is noisy or has particularly bright lighting. These are issues which could affect anyone but will be particularly challenging to HSPs due to their heightened awareness and extra-sensitive nature. Asking to move desks or using other resources such as tinted glasses or earphones may help you in getting more done each day.

Teamwork

It’s not that we Introverted Highly Sensitive types are anti-social or anything, in fact quite the opposite, most of us are eager to help and please others, but a lot of us do find ourselves drawn towards working alone. Working in a team can be both physically and mentally exhausting for HSPs as, as well as being super in tune to the environment around us, we also have a tendency to absorb other people’s feelings as though they were our own. Imagine if you were in a team with six or seven others, each feeling a different emotion… that’s a lot for your body to process in one go! Speaking to your boss and co-workers about how your Highly Sensitive Nature affects you might be a good idea, so you can devise strategies to help you cope in these situations.

Feeling Disconnected

For a lot of HSPs, myself included, feeling as though we are making a significant contribution with our work, or else helping others through our actions is very important. It’s what gives us motivation to get out of bed in the morning and put in that extra bit of effort throughout the day. If you feel disconnected from your job or uninspired by your tasks, then chances are you will not be working to your full productivity. Perhaps you need greater challenges, or a chance to learn some new skills within your current workplace. Maybe you just need a change altogether, in which case I would strongly encourage you to follow your heart’s desires.

Energy

You may have realised by now, having read through the rest of this article that for Highly Sensitive People work can be, well… exhausting! That’s why it’s so important to think about whether or not you would be happy in a particular job and how it will affect the other elements of your life. If you apply to work full time in a demanding role, then chances are that by the time you get home of an evening, all you’ll want to do is sit in front of the TV and vegitate. For some people that’s fine, but for those of you who have a lot going on in your personal life, whether it be looking after a family, pursuing hobbies or socialising with friends, I would advise you to think carefully about how much responsibility you take on. It may be worth considering working on a part-time basis, or full time in a less demanding role, in order to preserve your well-being and prevent yourself becoming exhausted or overwhelmed.

So to end the article on a positive note, I hope that reading about my experiences at work will prevent you from making similar mistakes and help you to think about what your next career move will be. I would say fundamentally, regardless of how much your job means to you and is a part of your life, your needs and well-being must take priority, so think carefully about the kind of lifestyle you want and adjust your work or job search criteria to fit around this. If you don’t want to change your job, but find that you are struggling to keep on top of everything in your current position, have a chat with your boss about making adjustments or putting strategies in place to help reduce the risk of you becoming overwhelmed. I haven’t decided which direction I will take yet in the world of work, but I now feel a lot more confident in knowing that when I do make the decision, it will be well-considered and less likely to follow the same pattern as my previous jobs, because I am putting myself and my needs first; something which I believe is key to living a happy, independent life as a Highly Sensitive Person.

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