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Highly Sensitive People and the Traditional 9-5 Workplace

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

If you’re feeling stuck or stagnant at work, frustrated with the way you are being treated or stressed out over your workload, you're not broken--you might be a highly sensitive person!

Who This Article Is For

Do you ever find yourself so intimidated by your to-do list that instead of getting started, you procrastinate all day and end up getting nothing done? Have you ever felt so overwhelmed in a conference room meeting that you wanted to cry? Do you consistently feel misunderstood or undervalued by your co-workers?

These could be signs that you are a highly sensitive person (or HSP), and these types of people don’t always thrive in the traditional office environment.

What is a Highly Sensitive Person?

This personality trait was originally defined by Dr. Elaine Aron in the early 90s, refers to a person with a sensitive nervous system who is aware of subtleties in his/her surroundings, and is more easily overwhelmed when in a highly stimulating environment.

About 20% of the population is considered to be highly sensitive, and while that may not seem like much, the trait is currently believed to be on the rise, thanks to the constant presence of media and technology in our lives.

Common traits found in highly sensitive individuals include:

  • Acute sensitivity to loud noises, bright lights, or strong smells

  • Easily overwhelmed by daily tasks, to-do lists, and responsibilities

  • Deeply moved by television shows and movies, especially when disturbing or violent

  • Shy, or socially awkward (though, not always)

  • Avoidant of uncomfortable situations or conflict

  • High need for alone time, especially in a quiet, comfortable environment

If you’re still unsure if you’re an HSP, Dr. Aron has provided a self-assessment test on her website. She says that if you answer more than fourteen questions as true of yourself, you are probably highly sensitive.

Why Highly Sensitive People Aren't Cut Out for the Traditional 9-5

There are TONS of reasons why HSP's may not fit into typical office culture--way more than I can list here. But below are some of the main complaints highly sensitive people have when it comes to the traditional 9-5.

Deadlines, Tasks, and Endless To-Do Lists

The modern workplace has normalized the “hustle” culture where we are expected to do more and more, then chastised if we dare to make a mistake.

As highly sensitive people, we already strive for perfection, tend to place other people’s priorities above our own, and become easily overwhelmed by a long to-do list. We work best when we are able to move at our own pace and give each project the deep and thoughtful deliberation it deserves.

Our Innate Gifts Aren't Valued

Empaths and highly sensitive people are excellent team players, thrive in supportive roles, and excel at building and nurturing relationships. Although these are all necessary components of a successful work environment, they are seldom appreciated when it comes to the “bottom line”.

Generally, work culture tends to place value on more “masculine” qualities. That’s why you see terms like “results-driven”, “analytical”, and “competitive” so often on people’s resumes. HSPs, who sway more “feminine” in nature, may have difficulty fitting into a culture that undervalues a more human-first approach to business.

Thankfully, we are seeing a movement in our society where “feminine” business practices are more common to find in the workplace. I would credit this to the fact that there has been a 114% increase in 114% increase in the number of female entrepreneurs over the last 20 years. Girl power!!

Physical Environment

I remember my first 9-5 office job. I was working as a sales assistant at a radio station, fresh out of college. My desk sat in a bay of cubicles I shared with the entire sales staff. To one side of me was a senior sales executive who frequently took loud phone calls from her husband and brought her two toddlers in to work on days she couldn’t find a sitter.

On my other side was a young semi-pro hockey player-turned-salesman who was constantly asking for my help with Excel spreadsheets and always smelled like chewing tobacco and sweaty pits.

Then of course, just behind my desk was my boss’ office, perfectly situated to where she could scream out my name whenever she needed me. Oh, and did I mention the industrial printer next door? All this plus, whichever radio station we had playing throughout the building that day, which was typically a hard rock station (our #1 seller).

Needless to say, my work suffered immensely due to the constant barrage of stimuli. And unfortunately, most workplaces are set up similarly, not giving employees the appropriate setting to focus quietly on their work.

Toxic Work Environment

According to the 2021 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, conducted in January 2021, 30 percent of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work; another 19 percent have witnessed it; and a whopping 49 percent have been affected by workplace bullying.

These statistics may raise even higher when studying highly sensitive people. A study of 5,000 people in the United Kingdom by the British Occupational Health Research Foundation found that even if the victims don’t recognize that they are being bullied, their mental health is still affected.

Although workplace bullying is defined by threatening, humiliating, or intimidating conduct; work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done; or verbal abuse, a highly sensitive person can be deeply affected by even the most [seemingly] harmless conduct, such as playful teasing or constructive criticism.

A highly sensitive person’s tendency to over-analyze social interactions make them even more susceptible to mental health issues brought on by workplace bullying.

3 Practices to Help You Gain Clarity on the Future of Your Career

If you’ve made it this far into the article and are thinking to yourself “Holy shit, all of a sudden it all makes sense!”, then I am so happy you feel seen! Before taking the leap to start my own business, I felt like a fish swimming against the current every day I went to work.

At this point, you may also be thinking to yourself, “Now what?”. Below are the three most effective practices I found while making my transition from frustrated 9-5-er to confident business-owner.

Journal Prompts

I, like many highly sensitive people, find so much value in writing my thoughts down on paper. Sometimes I have so many thoughts and ideas and emotions swirling around in my head that it’s hard to get anything done amid the chaos. I found this to be especially true when it comes to my work and business.

To help gain clarity on the type of businesswoman (or man) you’d like to be, try this simple 2-part exercise:

Step 1. Write down all the things about your current job situation that stresses you out. Is it the people? The commute? Does it lack fulfillment? Be sure to hit every single thing that irks you about your job, no matter how small or trivial it may seem (stinky lunch guy, I’m looking at you).

This exercise may bring up some uncomfortable feelings or memories, but that’s good! Giving yourself a taste of those negative emotions will help you to remember how important it is for your life to change.

Step 2. Write down your ideal work day. Plan out how and what time you will wake up, what you have for breakfast, how you feel throughout your day, what types of tasks you will be doing. Are you working from home? A cozy coffee shop? The beach? Have fun with this part and don’t be afraid to dream big–ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!

What you should try to take away from this exercise is how freaking powerful you are and truly capable of change. You know the saying, “If you believe it, you can achieve it”? It may sound cheesy, but it’s actually true.


Before branching out and doing my own thing, I always thought I had to keep the “woo-woo” side of me and the “business” side of me separate. So silly. There are TONS of resources out there for merging mindfulness and business.

I highly recommend Jacquelyn Atkins’ guided meditations on the Insight Timer app. I listen to her Daily Connection with Your Business track almost every single day before I start work.

An even easier option would be to take a look at your journal entry from Step 2 above. Read through your answer, then sit down to visualize what that ideal workday looks like for you. Make this as real an experience as possible. What do you see? How do you feel? What are you wearing?

The more opportunities you give yourself to embody or “try on” the life you want to live, the more likely to will be to make choices in your life to mirror it.

Gathering Insight

If you’ve completed your journal entries and done the meditations and still don’t know which direction your career should take, consider asking someone else! Building the life of your dreams is an inside job, but sometimes the people closest to us can provide some invaluable insight.

Consider asking questions like:

What do you believe are my innate gifts?

What do I offer you that no one else can give?

What three words come to mind when you think of me?

What type of job do you think would best suit my personality?

Now, I do suggest you be very discerning in who you choose to help you with this. If you know someone is going to be defeatist or cynical, don’t ask them! You’re trying to change your life for the better; you don’t need that negativity in your life.

Also, keep in mind that no one knows you better than you know yourself. If you’re unhappy with the information you’ve collected from this exercise, throw it out and go back to practices 1 and 2.

Have You Considered Empathic Entrepreneurship?

Empaths and highly sensitive people make amazing entrepreneurs! We understand others, which makes sales a breeze; we ooze compassion, creating ethical business models; and we truly want to help others, which leads to kickass, life-changing offers.

The benefits of starting your own business are never-ending: living the work-from-home life, setting your own schedule, and being your own boss is just the beginning. Not to mention, you never have to deal with stressful work politics or stinking breakrooms anymore?! Truly a dream come true.

If you’re curious about what it takes to build your own business, check out my Be Your Own Boss Course, it's the fairy godmother of online courses that will help you say goodbye to your stressful 9-5 and hello to working from home, being your own boss, and making money while doing the things you love. You’ll learn everything you need to know to get your online business up and running within one month! In the course, we cover:

  • How to Set Up Your Business as an LLC

  • Opening a Business Bank Account

  • Choosing a Website Builder for Your Site

  • Creating a Branding Strategy With Ease

  • Crafting Your First Offer

If the solopreneur lifestyle is what you crave, the only thing to do is just start! With this course, I'll have you working from a cozy corner at your local coffee shop in no time.

Final Thoughts

If you’re feeling stuck or stagnant at work, frustrated with the way you are being treated, or stressed out over your workload, remember, you are not alone. You are not broken. You are not less than anyone else. You just don’t thrive in a traditional work setting!

Dip your toes into the entrepreneurial space with this Free Resource Guide. It has all the resources you need to build your own online business from scratch.

So much love,



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