What Highly Sensitive people find challenging at work: unhelpful elements of workplace culture and environmentRead Now
Hiding at work
It's common for Highly Sensitive people to feel like they need to hide their temperament at work. This can be because there's no space for it to be acknowledged or used - there's just one acceptable and expected way for employees/leaders to act and do their work - or because it's misunderstood as something negative which needs to be changed. There are often misconceptions about what an effective leader or productive employee is: their appearance, approach, personality, interactions with colleagues or customers, and the speed with which they can work and produce excellent results.
The tragedy of Highly Sensitive people hiding their temperament at work is that their valuable gifts are not only under-used, but seen as problems, and repressed. One respondent said, echoing others, 'I've never worked in a place that aligned with my HSP (Highly Sensitive person) traits'. What a difference it would make if more managers understood this bounty at their fingertips, and could turn the languishing of their Highly Sensitive team members into thriving!
* This is not to imply that all Highly Sensitive people are languishing at work. Many do very well, producing consistently good results. But even they have more to offer - so much more, often - and this potential is, I feel, greatly untapped. Many others are languishing.
No matter what the trends say, open-plan offices are a terrible situation for most people, & especially for the Highly Sensitive. Plastic (see-through!) dividers don't change that. Some of the elements here work - natural light, good blinds and ergonomic chairs. But the lack of privacy and space, clutter, and lack of noise control is a recipe for over-stimulation & poor performance.
Why is it useful to know the experiences of Highly Sensitive people in the workplace?
1. They are often the first to experience adverse effects from an un-ideal environment/situation. Policies, approaches, physical and cultural environment: Highly Sensitive people notice and respond to them earlier and more intensely. They provide an indication of what's not working, and what will begin to have a much greater (and costly) effect on the organisation soon.
2. Differential susceptibility:
Highly Sensitive people are highly responsive to their environment. Things which are slightly negative to others can be more intensely negative for them. Positive changes have an even greater positive effect on them than on others. Improving workplace conditions will have an outsize positive return for Highly Sensitive people. This means increased benefits from their gifts and minimised weaknesses - along with reduced harm to them.
3. Human Resources / People & Culture personnel will be better placed to understand this group of people in the workplace and respond to their needs.
With that in mind, here's what the Highly Sensitive people I asked shared about unhelpful elements in their workplaces:
Next, I have 3 specific workplace environments, as certain elements are unique to, or often found together in, some sectors.
A start-up company
These conditions illustrate a lack of autonomy or the recognition that employees are people with needs and talents, not unembodied bundles of resources. Needing to expand quickly as a start-up doesn't negate this. (These are also common elements of employee dissatisfaction - not just of concern for Highly Sensitive people. But they might experience even greater stress and other effects than the rest).
Not-for-profit organisations working to solve social problems
HS people care deeply about doing well, doing right, and making things better. They’re not the only ones – but being so responsive, when they’re uncomfortable with aspects like misalignment of actions and purported values in an organisation, it’s an indication that something is wrong, and needs to be addressed. If left, it will only grow into a more ingrained problem that will become harder to deal with.
I.T. Programming at a global company
This is just a sample of the experiences of Highly Sensitive people at work. But it represents some common elements for this group.
If you recognise your workplace in any of these elements, consider what it would mean for this mostly invisible group to have conditions where they can thrive.
For more about the benefits of Highly Sensitive people at work, see 10-benefits-that-highly-sensitive-people-bring-to-the-workplace. For more about the Highly Sensitive temperament, see what-is-high-sensitivity-the-best-places-to-learn-more and high-sensitivity-the-basics-explained. To find out how learning about and creating positive conditions for this group can improve overall wellbeing and effectiveness in your workplace, browse a description of my services, and / or send me a message.
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Tamara - Sensitive Thrive is my consulting business. I believe that the world needs Highly Sensitive people who are flourishing. We need their hope, insight, wisdom, and awareness of beauty and possibility. My vision is to help create a culture where this temperament is known, understood and valued; where organisations seek Highly Sensitive people to work for them, because they know what they can do. Where HS people feel like they fit in their workplaces, because those workplaces also fit them. A world where HS people belong, thrive, and flourish, and the world is better for it.