Are you one of the world’s highly sensitive people? Here’s how to navigate the world of work with ease.
Navigating the working world can be an intense experience for anyone – let alone if you’re a highly sensitive person, or HSP.
In a society that celebrates those who thrive in fast-paced, cutthroat environments, the estimated 15-20% of the population who experience the world more intensely and deeply than others are often forgotten.
But just because HSPs might find some aspects of work more challenging, it doesn’t mean HSPs can’t find a way to thrive in the workplace.
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In fact, in some respects, being an HSP can make you better at your job – it’s just a matter of identifying where your strengths lie.
To find out more about how HSPs can thrive at work – including the actions employers can take to support their highly sensitive employees – Stylist asked Dr Michaela Litchmore-Dunbar, a clinical psychologist and founder of My Easy Therapy, for her expert insight. Here’s what she had to say.
What challenges do highly sensitive people face in the workplace?
The most prominent reason why HSPs might struggle at work is because they’re burnt out or overwhelmed, Dr Litchmore-Dunbar explains.
“Highly sensitive people tend to process information more deeply than others,” she explains. “This has practical use – because it allows them to analyse and make really thoughtful decisions, for example – but it also means that their nervous system is processing every piece of information over and over, often magnifying it.
“This is the foundational trait of highly sensitive people, and it’s what gives HSPs a sense of overthinking, burnout or overload.”
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The amount of work that goes into thinking about and experiencing everything so deeply can also take its toll, Dr Litchmore-Dunbar adds.
“Processing every little detail, all the time, is exhausting,” she points out. “Since a HSP will take in and think about details that most people never even notice, they are essentially performing more cognitive work than the average person all day long, so it’s only natural that an HSP will feel exhausted in situations where others feel fine.”
What strengths do highly sensitive people possess in the workplace?
One of the biggest strengths HSPs possess when it comes to work is their ability to focus in on the smaller details.
“HSPs have an innate sensitivity to subtleties and a really good intuition for what is likely to become a problem and what will not,” Dr Litchmore-Dunbar explains.
“It’s like they have a sixth sense for spotting and correcting a disharmonious energy – they like to rectify mistakes or misunderstandings quickly and this forces them to be conscientious.”
This ability to zone in on certain details also makes HSPs good at making practical decisions and getting stuff done – including in leadership positions.
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“HSPs are naturally predisposed to want to deeply understand and consider the information they take in before acting on it or responding – a talent which translates well to a leadership role, as team members often feel comfortable speaking openly because they know they’ll be heard and understood,” Dr Litchmore-Dunbar adds.
“In any career, it is important to say the right things, at the right time, with the right intentions. Many HSPs are able to do this naturally, which is quite rare. It requires them to deeply understand how their words and actions will impact those around them, calling on their natural sense of empathy and intuition.”
What can employers do to help highly sensitive people thrive at work?
The number one thing employers can do to help their highly sensitive employees is give them the space they need to decompress.
“In order to really get the benefit of HSPs’ talents and improve their productivity, they need a certain amount of quiet and privacy during the day,” Dr Litchmore-Dunbar says. “This could look like allowing time for walks, providing a quiet office space, allowing for online work from possible and imposing reasonable hours.”
She continues: “HSPs also take feedback very seriously, so it’s important that employers consider the words they use when giving critical feedback.”
What can highly sensitive people do to help themselves thrive at work?
Alongside being aware of your strengths, if you’re a highly sensitive person, there are a number of things you can do to improve your experience at work and look after your wellbeing, Dr Litchmore-Dunbar explains.
Be more vocal
“HSPs make really good team members because of their innate sensitivity to subtleties and ability to take other people’s feelings into account – for example, you can spot the hidden downsides and benefits to a new initiative in your company that others might miss.
“Because you take people’s feelings into account you’re really good at maintaining supportive, collaborative atmospheres. You have an ability to be tactful with your words, and balance different perspectives. This is your intrinsic nature, so trust yourself and use it to your advantage.”
Prepare for stimulating or stressful situations
“No one likes to be caught off guard and if it’s one thing that HSPs hate, it’s being caught off guard in a meeting. Try to anticipate questions and think about what your responses might be before the meeting.
“However, don’t over-prepare. This can quickly become a safety net and you don’t want to become inflexible if something unexpected comes up.”
Find a quiet space in your office
“It doesn’t have to be huge, maybe just a chair and a desk, but it should be somewhere you won’t be disturbed. If you don’t have this space then go for a walk regularly. Less stimulation means more creativity, and more creativity means more problems solved efficiently for the company.”
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