Empaths in the workplace

Empaths make up 20% of your workforce. If you haven’t yet identified the empaths among you, you’re probably overlooking the unique assets and perspectives that they bring to the table. Before discussing their strengths, let’s first talk about what it means to be an empath and how it feels to interact with them.

Being an empath without knowing you are is a painful and awkward experience. I walked that path for nearly 40 years. Most of the people and places I interacted with seemed abrasive and insensitive. The common reaction of those around me was that I was too sensitive, which only made me feel worse because on some level I knew that my hypersensitivity wasn’t a choice.

People often confuse being an empath with having empathy. Empathy is when your heart goes out to someone in pain. This is a temporary, occasional state. If you’re an empath, it goes a lot further.

Empaths are highly sensitive all the time. Energetically, these individuals are extremely ‘porous’, which makes them both very attuned and very vulnerable to their surroundings. Empaths unknowingly feel others’ emotions as if they were their own. They are more sensitive to all kinds of stimuli and feel the world more intensely. Noise is often unbearable and it is harder for them to shake off rough language or a violent scene. Because their emotions are harder to contain, empaths are often seen ’bursting’ with joy or ‘erupting’ in tears.

Empaths who take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator often identify as INFJ or INFP. That is, they have tendencies to be introverted (I), highly intuitive (N), and view the world predominantly from the lens of feeling (F).

Empaths are typically very sensitive to their physical environment and can instantly detect and absorb the energy of a given place. Workplaces are intense environments for empaths: High levels of stress, anxiety, anticipation and excitement, in addition to higher noise levels, back-to-back meetings, large gatherings and major events – all lead to sensory and intuitive overload.

Empaths struggle with fatigue and depletion at conferences given the larger crowds, constant chatter, jam-packed schedules and air of excitement which seems to permeate every corner of the hotel – including the sleeping rooms.

Participation in large group meetings is also a challenge. Empaths will find it more difficult to think clearly and center themselves in their own thoughts and intuitions because they are constantly picking up on others’ thoughts and feelings – including those which are unspoken.

If you interact with empaths, you may find them to be difficult, hard to read, and complicated. Their extreme sensitivity will frustrate you and you’ll find yourself wishing they would “toughen up”. You may also find them to be shy, hesitant, lacking confidence, or antisocial. Empaths can find it hard to speak up at meetings, unwittingly coming across as having nothing to say or holding back their thoughts.

While the hypersensitive nature of empaths can seem hard to manage, recognize that empaths have important gifts to share. The reason is simple. Sensitivity is a heightened ability to detect data and cues from the world; in hypersensitive individuals this ability is amplified. In other words, empaths are essentially super fine-tuned antennae!

Empaths are intuitive. They see what others don’t which means you can rely on them for advice. Being so attuned to others’ emotions, they are excellent at understanding where others are coming from. It’s easy to confide in empaths because their presence is soothing and they make great listeners. They are also brilliant at detecting and interpreting what is unspoken, such as lies and hidden agendas.

Here are 7 tips you might consider to create an empath-friendly work environment. These tips can benefit everyone on your team – not just empaths – so you don’t have to worry about providing special treatment.

  1. Offer quiet, private workspaces and/or the ability to work from home.
  2. Welcome their intuitions and feelings about people, places, and projects.
  3. Minimize the number of group meetings per day, avoiding back-to-back meetings if possible.
  4. Involve them in interviews, even if just to observe. They’ll pick up valuable cues about job incumbents that other interviewers may overlook.
  5. Provide breathing time during conferences. Allow short breaks, and don’t be offended if they would rather skip happy hour or eat dinner solo.
  6. Use gentle correction rather than harsh or blunt words to convey feedback.
  7. Encourage daily meditation – up to an hour per day to disconnect from everything.

Empaths strengthen your workforce and make unique contributions to your organization. Creating gentler work conditions will help them thrive and minimize tension with individuals who are ‘less sensitive’. Enjoy getting to know your empaths and letting them surprise you with their heightened sense of awareness.