Many empaths and sensitive people can struggle a lot with their job. The pace of work is nerve-wracking, the atmosphere at work is stressful and you’re constantly haunted by a feeling of inadequacy.
In a busy and high-paced workplace, your self-esteem and trust in your own professional ability can take a big hit when you feel like you’re always stretched too thin.
The very first thing you should do is to ask if the problem is with you, as the highly sensitive person, or with something else; the workplace atmosphere, for example.
Sadly, leadership skills are too often lacking if not outright nonexistent. Business is conducted with the highest level of ability and professionalism, while skills in interpersonal relationships are rudimentary.
This kind of leadership makes it difficult for anyone to really feel good at work – unless you’re a robot.
We lack the sensitivity required to see underneath the surface and lead others with wisdom.
A person with thicker skin can put up with poor management and leadership, tolerate interpersonal problems in the work community and deal with the bad, vague energy at work for a longer time.
For a sensitive person, these things will become detrimental very quickly.
Too often though, we blame ourselves and think that we’re just imagining things.
If it gets really bad, you might end up on long-term sick leave popping antidepressants. I almost went down this path myself from having a terror for a boss in a poorly managed company.
When I was young and inexperienced, I didn’t know how to defend myself, draw boundaries and take care of myself. I was too kind and I didn’t realise that I was an empath and highly sensitive.
So, how can you cope at work as an empath or highly sensitive person?
Good self-knowledge is critical for your well being
When you understand your needs as an empath, you are able to ensure you get enough rest and prevent getting overwhelmed.
You’ll learn how to regulate the amount of stimulus you’re exposed to throughout the day and will be able to maintain a good level of energy all day.
Rarely do your strengths and unique abilities flourish under excessive stress.
When you know yourself, you’ll also know what your strengths are and what kind of work would best suit you. Finding a job where you feel comfortable will become that much easier.
When possible, negotiate how and where you do your work
Noisy open-plan offices where you’re constantly under a barrage of noise and where focusing on your work is challenging isn’t at all a good place for an empath or a sensitive person.
You might become stressed simply from constantly seeing movement in the periphery of your vision, even if no one is coming to speak with you specifically.
Research has proven that background noise is one of the things in our everyday lives that cause the most stress.
Some people can tune it out and others use headphones to block out the sound. But this isn’t by any means possible at all jobs and in several cases, superiors who don’t understand sensitivity and empathy may forbid the use of headphones.
Be proactive in having a say in how the office works and in how things are done if you have an agreeable employer. Working from home some part of the week is a common way to reduce the stress caused by a noisy environment.
If you find that you can’t change things for the better, consider finding another job rather than burning yourself out at the current one.
Think about your own innate abilities
Are you reaching your full potential at your current job? Do you know what you’re actually good at?
Empaths will often shine in jobs that require listening skills, empathy, paying attention to details, creativity, artistic abilities, emotional intelligence, intuition, precision, leading others and considerate customer service.
Also consider if you’re more introverted or more extroverted.
Do you enjoy exploring something deeply and working by yourself or do you prefer working collaboratively and in groups? Or perhaps both?
Some things to consider and implement for improving your workplace satisfaction:
- Self-knowledge, find out more about what you like/are good at.
- Recovering from social interaction, it usually takes empaths and sensitive people longer to wind down after a busy day, make time for this every day to feel less depleted the following day.
- Find work where your innate abilities can shine, having a job that is well suited to the kind of stimuli you can handle and the skills that you bring to the table makes all the difference for an empath.
- A healthy work culture (at least healthy enough), a toxic environment will wear down and empath faster than anything else. Remember to draw boundaries around yourself in order to prevent becoming exhausted.
- Adjusting the work environment and the ways of working to suit your needs, when you can set things up in a way that they make working easier for you (without causing disruption to others) you’ll have more energy and be able to focus better.
- Honest and respectful communication, openly communicating your own needs and coming up with alternatives will prevent you from feeling numb and exhausted at work.
Empaths and sensitive people tend to avoid conflicts and confrontations. This can often lead to you not expressing your needs or asking questions when you really should.
You should learn how to communicate your needs in a precise and courteous manner, because constantly suppressing your own feelings and adjusting to other people’s needs is exhausting.
If you’re like me, and struggle to fit in working for someone else, you might want to consider working part-time or full-time as an entrepreneur.
I worked part-time jobs while freelancing on the side. As a rule, my jobs were unrelated to my work as a copywriter and illustrator because they were easy to get/quit at short notice and I preferred easy jobs that I could leave at work when I went home, such as shop assistant and shelving/warehouse jobs.
You should go into entrepreneurship with realistic expectations, though, so that you don’t put yourself under unreasonable financial pressure. Freelancing on the side allowed me to pursue a creative job while not having to worry about paying the bills.
It was only after working part-time jobs for a long time that I decided to go into business without that support. I found that I was starting to overcommit to my part-time job (making it a full-time job more often than not) and had stopped freelancing altogether when I started to plan my exit from having a part-time job at all.
I made this transition over several years and having a steady paycheck while I was starting up my business really helped.
Typically, you can expect the beginning to be financially tight, but when you’re doing a job you love and your interactions with clients give your work meaning, it’s easier to not give up too soon.
Whatever your dream job or profession is, be prepared for it to take a while before you find it.
As your self-knowledge and self-confidence grow, it’ll become more and more clear where your innate abilities will be trump cards rather than a hindrance.
Sometimes along the way, you’ll need a coach or a mentor, who can help you see your own abilities more clearly and steel your confidence in your own skills. People, webinars, online classes and forums can all provide you with a lot of support on your journey
The better you know and understand your own skills, goals and wishes, the more likely it is that you’ll find that job that’s perfect for you.
For me, the perfect job is made up of these components:
Working environment and ways of working
I work from home (if I start to feel too isolated, I’ll head to a café, which I usually regret as soon as I sit down and start trying to focus, but can’t, due to the noisy environment).
At home, I’m able to focus on my work and get on with my tasks in peace. I have turned off most notifications on my phone to avoid continuous distraction and I encourage people to contact me via email rather than calling.
This gives me enough time to think about my responses and when I need to, I can schedule a time for a phone call and prepare for that in advance.
The pace of work
My pace varies a lot and I am able to group together similar tasks to make my workweek more efficient.
I like to keep track of what needs to be done with printable pages designed for productivity and keeping a positive mindset. My life-saver is this priority to-do list which you can also download for free from my webshop.
I make sure that I take a long enough lunch break and don’t need to rush through it. I can also watch, read or listen to things related to my work while I eat – adding to not having to rush through lunch.
I usually also take a 20-30 minute break during the day to meditate or nap. This helps me to keep my brain sharp and I work more effectively.
I write draw and paint, create content for Instagram, write articles and emails (newsletter) as well as design products out of my art that I sell in my webshop. I also run my website myself and do all the routine tasks my business requires (such as accounting) myself.
Job requirements and skills
My job requires creativity, intuition, good relationship skills, empathy and clear communication in oral and written form. I need to pay attention to small details while seeing the bigger picture.
It also requires a lot of self-management, which is something I really like to do as a highly independent person (and have often clashed with bosses in the past because of).
The best thing about my job
I love using my creativity in my work and drawing, painting as well as writing give me a lot of joy.
I like it that I am in control of my own schedule and that I am in charge of protecting my own productivity.
Meeting other people is invigorating for a solopreneur and now (unlike before) I feel energised rather than depleted when I get to interact with others. I always come away inspired and excited after socialising.
Freedom and family is important to me, and this way of working allows me both freedom over my work and time for my family.