Work stress has skyrocketed over the last couple of years. And while higher levels of stress affect most people in some way or another, they can be especially challenging for highly sensitive people.
That's what makes it even more crucial for employers attempting the return-to-office‚Äù (or alternative working models) to explore ways to support employees who are more susceptible to workplace stress.
Highly sensitive employees also tend to be high performers. Apart from prioritising workplace wellbeing in order to have happy employees and a more harmonic working environment, it makes sense for the bottom line to help them avoid burnout.
This article will cover the traits of highly sensitive people, the strengths they bring to the workplace, and five easy ways to support them at work so they can reach their full potential.
What is a highly sensitive person (HSP)?
High sensitivity is a natural but often misunderstood neural trait.
The term was first coined in the mid-1990s by an American clinical research psychologist and author called Elaine Aron, who later published several books on the topic. According to Aron, highly sensitive people actually make up 20% of the general population.
A highly sensitive person (HSP) experiences heightened reactions to physical, emotional, or social stimuli. In other words, they experience the world around them more intensely than their peers do. Biologists have found similar traits in over 100 animal species
One way to imagine it is that a sight, sound, or smell that is barely noticeable to most people could be wonderful or completely unbearable for a highly sensitive person, depending on their specific triggers.
It's also important to note that being a highly sensitive person is not a medical diagnosis in and of itself. It can, however, co-exist with neurodiverse conditions like autism or ADHD for example.
Traits of a highly sensitive person
There's a certain social stigma that comes along with being labelled too sensitive‚Äù.
For instance, many people will assume that HSPs are too introverted or shy when actually they are just happy observing a situation before getting involved.
Or when an HSP becomes overwhelmed, other people may think they're overreacting because they don't understand their behaviour.
The truth is that all kinds of people can be HSPs (30% of HSPs are actually categorised as extroverts.) Just like any other personality trait, this one comes with its own strengths and challenges which vary from person to person.
The following are some common traits of highly sensitive people:
- Being deeply moved by the beauty in the world, like art, music, food, and more
- Feeling rattled by conflict, violence, and cruelty (even in TV and films)
- Getting overwhelmed by external stimuli like sights, smells, sounds, and sensations
- Needing more time to adjust to change and new things
- Easily perceiving how other people are feeling and what they are thinking
- Absorbing other people's emotions as their own and becoming exhausted
- Needing to retreat and be alone in order to decompress
- Having deep thoughts and a complex, rich inner world
How to support highly sensitive people at work
Highly sensitive people are passionate, hardworking team members who make great problem solvers because of their ability to analyse complex issues and pick up on subtle stimuli.
They also have the potential to become great leaders because of their heightened levels of self-awareness, insightfulness, and empathy.
All they need is a little tailored support and understanding when it comes to the things that overwhelm them. Here are a few key ways to help your highly sensitive team members stay motivated while reducing their stress levels.
- Get to know their needs
No two highly sensitive people are exactly the same.
Each will have different strengths, challenges, and needs according to their individual personalities. The sooner you create open lines of communication to find out what it is they need, the sooner you can create an environment they will flourish in.
Simple tweaks like providing noise-cancelling headphones, reducing the length of meetings and encouraging breaks can already make a huge difference.
- Provide a calm working environment
Typical open-concept offices are a modern hellscape for many neurotypes, highly sensitive people included. The noise of everyone typing or taking phone calls, bright overhead lighting and constant visual disturbances can be extremely distracting, as well as draining.
Make use of empty conference rooms or quiet corners wherever possible to give them the option of a calm working space where they can do their best work without getting frazzled.
If you don't have any separate office spaces to offer them, encourage them to go on breaks and provide resources like calming teas for example. You can also encourage team members to schedule times they don't want to be interrupted on their calendars, or a quiet‚Äù time during the day when people avoid taking phone calls.
- Deliver feedback tactfully
Highly sensitive people tend to be perfectionists and people-pleasers, as well as avoid conflicts in general. Because of their conscientiousness and dedication to doing a good job, they can take negative feedback quite hard, especially if it catches them off guard.
Take the time to deliver feedback privately and tactfully. It will make a huge difference between helping them develop professionally instead of triggering a negative thought spiral which will distract them from their work.
- Be flexible
Because of their drive to do well and not let the team down, highly sensitive people often let the pressure build up until they're overwhelmed and can't cope anymore. More often than not, this leads to negative consequences to their overall well-being, like burnout and other health issues.
Discuss their deadlines and workload with them to assess if it's too much. Maybe some things could be delegated so they can dive deeper into their main tasks. If possible, it would also help to adjust their work schedule according to the flow of their work energy. If your team member finds it easier to work earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon, you can make tweaks accordingly.
- Coaching for motivation and stress management
Highly sensitive employees tend to be big-picture thinkers. They are often driven by the values and vision which drew them to their company or profession in the first place.
If the HSPs on your team are feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and start a conversation about what matters most to them. If you can connect their work and personal strengths to a greater purpose, even better.
Coaching is a great way to help your team members discover or remember their purpose, which is a great motivation booster. It can also provide effective tools and techniques for stress management, reducing the effects of workplace stress.
Vyou creates tailored work wellness journeys for your team by blending human coaching, AI nudges, and hyper-personalised content in one easy-to-use app.
We strongly believe that if you put your team's well-being first, the rest will follow. Because happiness is good for business.
Ready to support your team with personalised work wellness coaching? Book your free demo today.