Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person at work

Why Your Workplace Doesn’t Value HSPs — and How to Change That

Your workplace can value your HSP nature if you help others understand you and what you need, like dedicated downtime each day.

Do you feel valued and fulfilled at work? Do you feel that you can be your authentic self and that you’re appreciated for exactly who you are?

If you answered yes, then you should celebrate, because you have found an employer who understands the benefits of allowing — and even encouraging — their employees to bring their full selves to work.

I believe that most highly sensitive people (HSPs), however, are not so fortunate — many of the HSPs I meet are not happy at work. They struggle a great deal. Here are just some of the comments my clients have shared with me:

“I find it a challenge to communicate my needs as HSP. I feel like I need to fight for myself all the time. And after ‘the battle,’ I feel extremely exhausted.”

“I am feeling under-valued, overwhelmed, and taken advantage of.”

“I have a difficult time with feeling overstimulated at work, and have lost several jobs because of this.”

(Not) Being Accepted for Who We Are

In an ideal world, we would all be accepted and appreciated for who we are. Our needs would be easily and happily met because our employers and colleagues would recognize that it makes sense to do so.

But that is not the case, because the word “sensitive” tends to have negative connotations. If we are sensitive, we are considered to be weak, fragile, and perhaps even weird. 

This can make us stand out when we really don’t want to, and forces us to try to hide our sensitive nature and be something we’re not. I think there are two primary reasons for this.

There are more non-HSPs than HSPs. Since nearly 30 percent of the population is highly sensitive, that means 70 percent or so is not. The latter experiences the world completely differently from us and does not understand how we see, think, or feel. They have no frame of reference, so they think there has to be something “wrong” with us — even though being sensitive is not a disorder.

You may have experienced this not only in the workplace, but perhaps even within your family.

I recently had a business conversation with a woman who is not highly sensitive, and who wanted to understand what it is that I do. She was not familiar with the sensitivity trait, and as I was explaining it to her, she suddenly said, “That’s my son — he’s exactly like that.” 

Her son was a teenager and she said she and her husband had spent the whole of his life thinking there must be something “wrong” with him because of the way he reacts to things and of how different he seems.

For example, from a very young age, whenever any kind of change was going to happen for the family (as big as going to a new school or moving to a new house and as small as rearranging furniture in the house), he would become very overwhelmed and upset.

She learned that he needed time to process the change — since HSPs don’t love change. Once he had, he was fine, but she always wondered what was “wrong” and what made him act the way he did. 

After speaking to her, she now has a new understanding of why he responds the way he does and will be able to connect with him in a new way, she said, with more empathy and understanding. All because of our 20-minute conversation.

Non-HSPs don’t know what to do or how to react. I recently saw a question posted in a human resources group I belong to. An HR manager mentioned that she had an employee who seemed to take everything personally and would often burst into tears. This manager was trying to help her, but said the person’s behavior would really disrupt the office. Plus, coworkers were confused by her behavior and walked on eggshells around her. The HR manager asked for input on how to deal with this employee.

Many of the comments (likely coming from non-HSPs) were along the lines of:

  • “She needs some mental health assistance and therapy.”
  • “She’s probably struggling with anxiety and depression.”
  • “She might be incompetent and cries to get out of taking on more responsibility.”
  • “If she can’t fix her behavior, let her go.”

I posted an answer to the question, saying that this person may well be highly sensitive, and attached an article explaining the trait in more detail. I received so many responses from group members wanting to know more that I’m now doing a presentation to the group to teach them about their HSP employees.

From this experience I learned that it’s not necessarily that others don’t care; it’s that they have no idea what to do or how to help. They have no frame of reference for what is happening with a sensitive person.

Of course, some organizations don’t truly value any of their employees, and there’s not much you can do if that’s the case. However, some organizations do value their employees (as in this case), but they have no understanding of what sensitivity is and what it means.

I think that many more HSPs would enjoy their job — and could thrive — if only they knew how.

Reasons Highly Sensitive People Often Struggle at Work

I think there are several reasons HSPs often struggle at work. Some of these include:

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

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How HSPs Can Change Things in Their Workplace

I think that we have the power — and the responsibility — to change things. Not only for our own sake as highly sensitive people, but for the sake of other HSPs out there, too. Here’s how:

  • You must fully value, appreciate, and accept yourself as an HSP. If you don’t value and appreciate yourself, then don’t expect others to. This means understanding yourself at the deepest levels. For example, knowing what energizes or drains you, and what you need to be at your best. While being in nature or music may energize you, back-to-back meetings and negative people may drain you. To be at your best, you make sure to do things like schedule some alone time every day and make sure your work environment is quiet so you can focus well.
  • Know your value as an HSP. Highly sensitive people have many skills and gifts — we are conscientious, intuitive, have a vision, and are creative — and we also see and feel things others don’t. These are gifts. Understand your uniqueness and the value you bring to the work that you do and the organization you work for. For instance, one HSP friend has worked in sales for many years. She has consistently been the highest performer because she connects with her customers on a deeper level. They come back to her time and time again because she listens and they feel understood.
  • Help others to understand you and to understand what you need. Let people know how to support you — let them know what works for you and what doesn’t. This is not about asking for special treatment; it’s about recognizing what you need in order to be the best you can be at work and then confidently articulating that. For example, you may need 30 minutes to yourself after your morning meetings, so you block out that time and your assistant or coworkers know not to schedule anything then.
  • Take good care of your energy. Practice self-care at work and at home. For example, maintain a clutter-free environment, stay away from toxic people, set healthy boundaries, and make taking care of your energy your number one priority. Be aware of when (and how) you might take on other people’s energy and emotions. Be the healthiest, most vibrant version of yourself that you can be.
  • Be yourself — confidently. If you believe there is something wrong with you that needs to be fixed, that’s how other people will see you and they will treat you accordingly. Instead, learn to embrace the unique qualities you have as an HSP. Recognize that being highly sensitive is a strength. When you see yourself this way you will gain confidence, become better at knowing and asking for what you need, and be good at setting boundaries. Others will naturally begin to respond more positively to you, which will grow your confidence even more.

HSPs, You Have the Power to Change the Dynamic in Your Workplace

As HSPs, you really do have the power to change your experience. I won’t say that it’s always easy. Even though I work with HSPs and am one myself, there are times when I feel overwhelmed or depleted. But I don’t stay there. When that happens, I know what to do to take care of myself, to reset, and restore my energy, and that’s what I do. For me, this means spending even just a few minutes in nature, and always reaching for good and positive feeling thoughts; for you, it may mean meditating. Try a few different things out and then go from there.

When I experience a difficult situation, I always acknowledge whatever emotion I’m feeling (such as anger, frustration, or sadness) and then I ask myself, “What do I need to learn from this situation so that I can move on?” This takes me out of “victim” mode and helps me acknowledge that I have the power to bring about positive change. 

When you can truly accept yourself and see your HSP trait as the gift that it is, then you’ll be able to help others know what it is that you need. Not in a complaining way, but in an assertive and confident way. Then they will see the best of you, and that’s how non-HSPs will begin to appreciate the value that we bring to the table as HSPs.

We have the power to start making that happen right now. So what are you waiting for?

If you’d like to learn how to be more valued and appreciated at work, and enjoy your job more, you’re invited to join one of my free Value Me round-table discussion groups, where you can let your voice be heard.

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