The Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide To Thriving At Work: Practical Tips For A Happy Career & Life

Study shows that 15% to 20% of the population can be classified as highly sensitive. This means that there is a high chance that you are or know a highly sensitive person.

The term ‘highly sensitive person’ or HSP was first coined in 1991 by American psychotherapist Elaine Aron. She explains that the nervous system and the brain of highly sensitive people work differently and therefore perceive sensory stimuli more sensitively. They experience external stimuli like loud noises and bright light, as well as internal sensation like hunger, tiredness and emotions more intensely.
HSP is an inborn personality trait. Having this trait leads to being more prone to becoming overstimulated. If you suspect that you might be a HSP it can help to learn more about it in order to find out what is the best way for you to handle it.

What Are The Characteristics Of HSP?

High sensitivity is different for everybody. Every highly sensitive person is unique. That is what makes it difficult to recognize this personality trait. However, common characteristics are:

• You are easily bothered by sounds around you
• You become cranky or don’t function as well when you are hungry
• You like to withdraw yourself after a busy day
• Social activities can tire you easily
• The moods of others influence your mood
• You become nervous or underperform when someone is watching you
• You notice it quickly when someone is feeling uncomfortable
• You understand social relations with ease
• You don’t like violent or scary movies and games

HSP And Work

As you perhaps can imagine, these characteristics can have both positive and negative consequences during working life. Highly sensitive people have a unique trait set, which make them valuable employees. They are often highly detail oriented, creative, loyal and socially intuitive. They are very independent workers who don’t like to get involved in office politics. There are, however, also pitfalls. By becoming aware of them, it can be prevented that these will stand in the way of a good performance and simply: a happy (work) life.

• Work environment

Many offices are introducing open workspaces. In these open offices colleagues walk by, talk on the phone and chat with each other. This can be disastrous for employees’ concentration, especially for a highly sensitive person.
Tip: You can reduce this distraction by choosing a quiet work spot or listening to music. Classical music and music without vocals stimulate concentration the most.

• Setting (and guarding) boundaries

HSPs tend to cross their own boundaries. This can happen at work, due to a thorough or perfectionistic way of working. This can also happen in the social sphere. HSPs are sensitive to unpleasant atmospheres and difficult (work) relations. This causes HSPs to become emotionally drained more easily. It can also happen that too many social activities with colleagues lead to overstimulation.
Tip: Knowing and guarding your personal boundaries is crucial for having a happy (work) life. Determine how much of your time you want to spend on work, make time for breaks and talk about your responsibilities in order to prevent working overtime. Also guard the balance between your social activities and ‘me time’ during your week.

• Variety & challenge

Most HSPs like to be challenged: motivation declines quickly when they have to perform a routine job. HSPs can then be judged as unmotivated while all they need is a little more challenge or variety in their daily tasks.
Tip: You can tackle this pitfall by taking on several different activities and inform the people you work with about your needs.

What Are Suitable Jobs For HSPs?

Creative, innovating & attention to detail
HSPs are often creative and like to think outside the box. They work thoroughly and like to deep dive into a topic. For these reasons HSPs are great researchers. This may be in the scientific field, but could also be in business (Research & Development).

Responsibility & challenge
Jobs that demand a lot of responsibility and independence are a great fit for many HSPs. For this reason HSPs often choose to pursue a career as a freelancer or entrepreneur.

Meaningful work
HSPs value having meaningful work. This can be in many different forms. For example by helping people by working in healthcare (social worker, psychologist etc.). Often times, HSPs hold a high moral value which stimulates them to work for a foundation or non-profit organization.

Do you recognize yourself, or someone around you, in this? By focusing on your strengths and by taking into account your pitfalls, you can ensure a happy (work) life!