Bright lights. Constant chatter. Disruptions. Deadlines. Pressure. An uncomfortable chair. A desk that is too high. Awkward social situations. Odors. Lack of privacy, quiet, and control.
That’s office life.
As an HSP, I’m highly tuned in to my environment and lots of little things become big things since I can’t stop obsessing over them. Here’s a list of some of the issues that made me swear off working in an office.
My Battle With Uncomfortable Chairs
I’m somewhat petite, and the office chair I was assigned at my previous job was meant for an average-sized man. No matter how I adjusted it, my back and neck were sore every day. It got to the point where the pain distracted me a great deal.
At my first job, they got me an awesome new chair, no problem. I was thrilled!
However, it was never again that easy. The HR department at another job required me to submit a doctor’s note! Like a schoolchild! Even my doctor thought it was strange as she basically scribbled on a pad, “Her office chair causes her pain”. What a waste of time for me and the doctor. I eventually got the chair, though.
My last job wouldn’t get me a new chair. So, I brought one from home (yup, I rolled it right into the office). They told me I couldn’t have a chair that didn’t fit the decor, so it had to go. Next, I permanently “borrowed” a chair from the conference room. It was big and plush, and not much better than my original chair. I would alternate between the conference room chair and my original chair so at least my pain would have some variety.
On top of the physical hurt was the embarrassment. As an HSP, I was very sensitive to the feelings of those who had to deal with my request. I felt like everyone thought I was a whiny, high-maintenance complainer. No one else in my office seemed to be complaining about their chairs! When I had to meet with HR and explain my grounds for needing a new chair, I was so nervous that I apologized the entire time. I said, “I don’t want to be a burden.”
An uncomfortable chair was only the start of my troubles in the office. I had issues with my desk, bad odors, noise, and lighting, as well. Read on.
My Battle with a Stinky Kitchen
I was seated directly next to an area with a refrigerator and pantry–it was a mini kitchen right in the middle of a hallway. People would throw perishable food into the trash can and since the bin was only emptied twice a week, it would start to smell. I remember one time I was sick of the stench, so I carried the giant trash bag outside to the enormous, disgusting dumpster, struggling to open the lid and dump in the trash…all while wearing a skirt and heels. Gross.
So I requested to have the current trash bin replaced with a model with a lid, and management obliged. Small victory!
Alas, then people would throw garbage in the trash and the rotating lid would get stuck in the “open” position.
I would be sitting at my desk, and I’d smell rotten food. I’d walk three steps to the pantry and sure enough, the lid was flipped to the open position. I could smell it every time it was open.
I printed out a sign that said, “Please make sure this lid is closed, it’s stinky!” and taped it to the wall above the trash can. That sign didn’t make a difference, so I put another under the lid. (Amazingly, I found a photo of the actual sign I made a few years ago. Here it is for your enjoyment.)
I could hear my co-workers discovering the sign and commenting on it. I even heard one person say the sign was stupid and ask why it was there, and I got so irritated that I walked over and quickly informed her that some people sit right next to the pantry and those people don’t like to smell sour, empty yogurt cups and rotting banana peels.
Inconsiderate coworker: 0
The Crazy Person Hanging Signs on the Trash Can (Me): 1
My Battle with Bright Lights
I had issues with lighting at all three of my previous office jobs, and in each, I either built or purchased a contraption to block the light.
At one job, I taped some folders to a ruler to the top edge of my cubicle, so the structure extended over my head–like a partial roof–blocking one of the lights. It was awesome.
At two other jobs, I was moved into a different cubicle because I complained about the bright lights. One move put me on the other side of the building from my boss and the rest of my department (a blessing in disguise!)
The lights were still too bright, so my workplace graciously purchased a low-cost contraption for my cubicle called a CubeShield. It looks a bit like a camping tent. It attaches to the top of the cubicle, blocking light.
I was mortified when the CubeShield arrived and the maintenance guys were installing it in my cube. I could hear everyone around me talking about it; people passed by and asked questions with confused looks, and others made jokes about me being in a tent. I was so embarrassed.
But after a while, I got used to it, and my co-workers got used to it. And one day, many months later, I noticed two more CubeShields rising from other cubicles!! Vindication.
My Battle with Distractions
As you can see, I’m highly in tune with my environment. If I’m uncomfortable, I can’t stop thinking about it. I obsess over it. I have to resolve it.
The same goes with noise in my workplace. When people are talking and chatting around me, I sometimes find it difficult to concentrate. Listening to music in headphones doesn’t work for me either, because I’m distracted by it.
There was the time I walked over to someone who was playing music from their cubicle and I straight up told her that it was distracting and could she turn it down? Pretty sure I got some crazy stares as I walked away.
What helped me was listening to white noise. SimplyNoise is one of my most-used tools for handling audio distractions in public places. I turn the volume up all the way until I can’t hear anything. It’s fantastic.
My Battle with Control
I’m learning more and more about how the perception of a lack of control is a struggle for me in my life. In the workplace, I have no problem submitting to authority, and I always show my bosses respect.
But not every boss respected me back.
I had one micromanaging boss. She was late for almost every meeting, and usually re-scheduled at least once. She also told me to physically walk into her office and bother her repeatedly when I really needed something, since she rarely read her email. She sometimes would stand directly over me when I was working on something she wanted urgently.
The first few months, I had a very difficult time working for her. I would come home every day and complain to my husband about her unprofessionalism. Simply put, to me, her behavior was not how a professional should behave in the office. End of story. She was DOING IT WRONG.
Then one day I realized, the problem isn’t her, it’s me. Since she’s the boss, I’m the one who has to learn to play by her rules. She doesn’t have to adapt to my expectations!
If she doesn’t like using email? I have to do it her way. If she is always late for meetings? I have to put up with it. I learned to be a bit more flexible. I can’t always be in control and expect things to be the way I think they should be.
More issues with control? Ok. At one job, we had to scan an access card to open the doors to the building. One day, it was announced that HR was tracking all our entrance times and matching them up with the times we entered in our timesheets. I heard co-workers saying they got called into HR and questioned about why they input a certain time for lunch when their access card showed something different.
I was enraged!
I despise the feeling of being watched or monitored. It makes me feel like my superiors don’t trust me as a professional. I’m here to work, not to be treated like a truant schoolkid. The most noteworthy thing about the whole scenario was when I wondered why no one else seemed as angry as I was. Why wasn’t everyone outraged by the injustice? It took me a while to realize it had to do with my issues about control. Being watched makes me feel guilty and paranoid.
I don’t like working in an office. I feel controlled, trapped, and bothered. My resolution? I’m trying to find a way to make an income working at home. Other people have figured it out, so why can’t I? Removing myself from the office environment will eliminate so many of the small things that add up to a major energy-suck for me.
Not everyone can just quit their job–I understand that. So, what is an ideal job for a highly sensitive person? Read about it here.