hsp job copingI worked in an office environment for around ten years, with most of that time either in a cubicle or in a big room with other people.

A lot of the time, I hated it.

So many things played a part in bothering and distracting me in that professional environment. Some things were obvious (like a wrong-sized chair that hurt my body) but other things contributed just a tiny piece to making me feel awful–usually without me even realizing it.

This post includes my tips for HSPs to better cope in the workplace. It’s probably better to read this after you’ve already read these rant-y work posts:

Caveat: Every office is different. My personal experiences might be different from yours. Also, keep in mind that I’m writing from an American perspective.

Ok, let’s go:

1. Don’t spill the beans.

Don’t tell your boss that you are a Highly Sensitive Person. They may not understand it and mistakenly think it means weakness.

In a perfect world, we could share our personality traits with our employers and they would analyze how these traits could be used as an asset to the team. But that’s not everyone’s reality. When I think back to past bosses I’ve had, and I imagine telling them I was highly sensitive–I have to smile. It would NOT have gone over well with some of them.

Should you tell other people in your life that you’re a HSP? See my opinion.

If–a big IF–your boss or co-workers have talked about being HSP or you think they will be receptive to the concept, then tell them. But in most professional environments, why risk it? You can thrive without telling people about your high sensitivity, where it risks being misunderstood.

Then you might say, “We should be spreading awareness about HSP, not keeping it secret.” Of course I believe that. I have a blog and podcast for that very purpose! But the workplace is not necessarily the right venue for sharing this personal information.

And that’s my argument for not telling people at work.

2. Be gentle.

Don’t beat yourself up about being different. Be as gentle with yourself as you would be to others. It might help to tell yourself that your nervous system is just more finely tuned than others.

3. Get gadgets!

Invest in your own ergonomic gadgets. I bought a pricey ergonomic mouse and keyboard that I used in corporate offices and now use at home. It’s worth the investment because you can use these tools for years.

Check out my list of ergonomic products for making cubicle life more bearable!

4. Talk to HR about your environment.

Don’t be afraid to talk to Human Resources (and/or your boss) if bright lights or your office chair are bothering you, or if your desk is too high or too low—environmental things like that. You might feel like you are being high-maintenance, but HR people deal with this all the time. You are not the first person to ask for adjustment in your workplace. Your physical and mental health are important.

My friend would complain about back pain from his work chair and refused to talk to HR about it. He had acupuncture, massage, doctor visits, and took up yoga due to the pain, but wouldn’t address the problem—the chair. Finally he spoke to HR (I like to think I convinced him!), and they got him an ergonomic chair. He should have done it sooner!

The average office chair seems to be meant for an average sized man. I am 5’3″, so using a chair meant for a 5’10” guy is undesirable, yet that is what short-statured people are expected to do all the time. Having a properly-sized and configured chair is so important when you are seated many hours each day.

In the past, I requested ergonomic, smaller chairs at three workplaces and two of them followed through. At the third workplace, I wheeled in an office chair from home.

5. Feelings = No. Productivity = Yes.

If you do talk to HR about struggles you are having, try to think from their perspective. They want their employees to be healthy and productive. Minimize discussion of your feelings and keep your requests about increasing your productivity, reducing work distractions, and physical health.

(Again, this depends on the workplace. You can take a different approach depending on whether your workplace is open-minded and modern versus traditional and old-fashioned.)

6. Get up and out.

Get out of the office on your lunch break. Go for a walk. I used to work in a dense office park, yet at lunch I’d walk around the massive parking lots and along the busy street. It wasn’t a very pretty stroll–and I wondered if people thought I was strange–but it cleared my mind and got my body moving.

I once joined a gym very near my job. I was lucky–it was only a 4 minute drive. At lunch, I’d hustle there as fast as possible, change my clothes, run on the treadmill for a half hour, shower super fast, then go back to work. Whenever I did this, I felt amazing for the rest of the day.

(If you don’t think you can fit a workout into an hour-long lunch, speak to your boss about extending your lunch break in exchange for working a bit later at the end of the day. Just a thought!)

If this workout scenario isn’t possible for you, get creative. You could start a lunchtime walking group, yoga group, or meditation group in the office.

7. Distract yourself.

Use headphones if you’re distracted by noise around you. Listen to white noise if music is too distracting. I like SimplyNoise.

It drives me bonkers when people play music in an office! Here’s my rant about why silence should trump noise in the workplace.

8. Home office?

Ask your boss about working remotely. I had a job where I worked from home three days a week and from the office two days a week. It was perfect!

If you think your boss will say no, start small. Ask if you can work from home once–maybe on a day you need to be home for some reason. Then, on that day, be super productive. Show that you thrive at home with fewer distractions. Then, maybe you can leverage that into more at-home work days. Try one day a week and go from there.

(Of course, not every job can be done from home.)

9. Know you aren’t alone.

Realize that you are NOT the only person who feels this way.

At a previous job of mine, I requested–and received–one of these ugly shield things to be installed over my cubicle to help block the bright fluorescent light. I felt embarrassed and conspicuous about the reactions and comments I received from my coworkers.

Amazingly, a few weeks later, two more people in the office had shields over their cubicles! I suddenly realized that lots of people share my struggles but stay silent.


What are your tips for surviving the office environment as a Highly Sensitive Person? Please share in the comments below.