Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly empathetic man smiling at work

Empathy Is a Rare and Valuable Strength in the Workforce

The throughline of my life has been that I care too much.

I’m uber sensitive — a highly sensitive person (HSP) right down the line. I don’t really play it cool. I’m easily excitable and it shows. I often overextend myself for others. And I put my heart and soul into almost everything I do. But, I always used to wish that I cared less.

People who give zero f#%&s have always intrigued me. The ones who are never afraid to speak their mind, don’t get rattled by someone disliking them, blaze their own path. How do they just not care? 

I’ve admired their attitude longingly even while saying “Yes!” to helping my friend move, or staying late at work to perfect a project for my boss. Still, I didn’t think it was cool to be someone like me — someone who gets so invested in everything. Especially not at work. 

Are you a highly sensitive person? Here’s how to know for sure.

When the Workplace Makes Caring Seem Uncool

At my previous company, caring definitely wasn’t an attitude that helped you climb the ladder. The people who held high positions had an edge about them — they led with aggression and intimidation. It was almost glorified to be intimidating. Think The Devil Wears Prada, except they really didn’t need to act that way. 

Monday mornings after a weekend of poor sales were the worst. Hold onto your sales reports — it’s going to be a bumpy ride! When we met with upper management, it was like getting cross examined by an attorney. Why were sales so bad? Did we not have enough inventory? Why were we missing “size small” when I visited the store? I felt like a kitten surrounded by sharks that were ready to eat me alive.

I’d drive to work on those Monday mornings with a lump in my throat and a knot in my stomach. I figured the only way I’d succeed and move up was if I hardened my soft shell.

And don’t get me wrong, I knew how to put on my bossy pants. I definitely knew how to get stuff done. I was never one to go hide and cry at work (though there’s nothing wrong if that’s you!). But being highly sensitive made me care deeply about everything. I always wanted to be nice to people, exchange friendly emails, and make the workplace comfortable. It didn’t roll off my back when people were rude to me. Instead, it frustrated me and I’d need to talk about it.

So I tried to adopt the I don’t care attitude.

I Don’t Care. Wait, Yes I Do.

I tried and tried. I convinced myself that I didn’t care. I’d get spoken to harshly at work and it penetrated me deeply. I was filled with injustice. I thought, I don’t deserve to be talked to this way! But I only bottled it up inside, repeating, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care. 

A male coworker was super inappropriate toward me. Just be chill. Be one of the guys. Don’t make this some huge deal.

The loop went on. I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care.

I wanted to be this cool, laidback girl, so I kept all of those emotions inside, which ate me alive. I am, by my very nature, an emotional person. Repressing all of those feelings was super unhealthy for me. It was unnatural and my body told me so through stomach aches, migraines, and hair loss.

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I Did Care. About Everything. A Lot.

This experience taught me resilience. Though that work environment was toxic for me, I did develop a thicker skin than if I’d just had it easy. Now, an undertone of rudeness or someone’s snotty attitude doesn’t bother me so much anymore because I worked in a place where that was the norm. It taught me to take things less personally.

But: Does it make it right for people to talk poorly to each other? Absolutely not. And for a workplace to almost glorify that type of behavior? Definitely not okay. I quit that job with a smile on my face.

In a world where it’s cool to say “I give zero f$%#s,” I’ve learned that to not care is not me.

What makes me me is my sensitive and caring nature. I’ve come to learn how it’s my greatest asset — it sets me apart. What a shame that I ever wanted to hide it. I’m an HSP and I’m proud of it! 

Embracing this about myself — learning how to lean into it and use those strengths to my advantage — has helped me in so many aspects of my life. I’m stronger now than I ever would’ve been if I’d continued to suppress it.

Why Caring Matters

People want to work with people who care.

Actually caring about the people you’re working with and striving to do what’s good for the team — instead of thinking, “What’s in it for me?” — is a rare and precious trait. We all know those standout employees who are always helping others, doing exceptional work, getting creative, and staying late here and there. No complaints, no entitlement. We remember those people because they’re so different. We feel how much they care. You know what I mean?

The greatest leaders are those who understand the strengths of the individuals on their team and look for ways to empower them. They realize they aren’t any good without a solid and happy team. That means taking care of their people, listening, and building trust.

Empathetic people make great teammates and leaders because we’re able to anticipate the needs of others. Caring about people is weak? As if! If you asked me, leading a team of people who feel afraid and unhappy is weak. It only serves to reflect the leaders themselves.

Empathetic leaders are able to sense who needs to hear more compliments, who needs space, who works well together, and who needs time to vent and feel heard. Understanding all of this helps others to trust you and work well with you.

When you’re able to sense what others need to feel supported, you’re able to make them feel important, seen, and heard. Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a huge strength and it’s what today’s workforce needs more of.

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