It was a normal, busy day at the office when my manager announced that there would be a team meeting in ten minutes. Typically, I don’t mind team meetings; they’re a hot commodity around here because there’s never any time for them, it seems. However, hardly anything productive comes out of these meetings; they usually become just a good excuse to get away from our desks.
I grab my seat in my usual spot — in between two empty chairs because I cherish my personal space. My manager engages in small talk to “warm up the room” — something I’ve never come to enjoy. You’re wasting my time, I think. She then begins going on about our new corporate office, which we’ll be moving to in a couple of months. She explains the placement of our department — on the ground level, near the entrance of the building, by all the windows. Because we’ll be more visible to visitors and other employees, we’ll need to be more “cautious” about how we dress and which websites we browse while we’re working. Then, the kicker. I thought I’d heard her wrong, but I didn’t: We would need to limit our use of headphones.
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. As an introvert, I have a hard enough time maintaining privacy and staying focused at work. In my head, I was letting her have it. How do you expect me to get anything done now? I rely on my headphones to get me through the day, and you’re going to take them away from me like it’s nothing? Not fair! You would’ve thought she told us we couldn’t eat lunch anymore. I reluctantly kept my mouth shut and continued to stew for the duration of the meeting, mainly because I don’t like to be put on the spot, and because I knew nothing I said would make a difference.
Using Headphones Is Actually a Big Deal
To a lot of people this may seem silly. But to others like me, who struggle on a daily basis to stay productive working in a busy office, much less a corporate job, using headphones is a big deal. As an introvert who is also a highly sensitive person (HSP), I am often anxious at work. My thoughts are sporadic and ever-changing based on the moods and actions of the people around me; I feed off my environment. People are constantly moving around, interrupting my workflow, and they are usually not very quiet about it, which stresses me out and breaks my concentration. I work with nearly 50 others, all with very different personalities. I can feel tension in the office. I can sense when I need to be alert. Being an HSP is a good thing because we can often sense others’ needs, but it can also be overwhelming.
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In order for me to relax and focus, I have to tune everything out. Not to mention, offices are filled with cubicles, including mine. Very small, open cubicles. I sit in the center of my department next to the kitchen, evidently making my desk the hub for killing time with chitchat. Ideally, headphones should also symbolize that a person is busy and they do not want to be bothered, but that doesn’t always work for me. Oftentimes, my coworkers shout my name across the hall or from their private offices if they need something. I hate this. Or, they’ll stand in front of my desk until I look up so they can comment on something or ask me another question.
I Cherish the Quiet
After working in offices for most of my adult life, I’ve realized that office jobs don’t fit my personality well. Many of my coworkers question me when I tell them that I actually enjoy doing things on my own. Before I learned that it’s okay to say no to people sometimes, I felt guilty for turning down group lunches; I felt weird for needing alone time. Though I am introverted, I can socialize for a certain amount of time, but after too long with too many people, I become agitated, anxious, and exhausted. Suddenly, sitting there with a group of people, I notice how loud the room is and how close my coworkers are sitting to me. That’s when I wish I had just eaten at my desk. I often find myself daydreaming about having a career that lets me work in my pajamas, next to my dogs on the couch.
I cherish the quiet. Even in college, I couldn’t study in a big room with a lot of people around me or with music blaring in my ears. There’s no way. My senior year, I became so overwhelmed by the movement and noise from others around me that I had to wear earplugs to take my tests and sit in the front row so I wouldn’t get distracted. In an office, there’s rarely quiet, especially if you work in a large office.
I’m sure there are a lot of introverted HSPs who use their sensitivity to their advantage. And, it is possible for highly sensitive introverts to survive and even thrive in an office job, even if it’s not the perfect introvert job. I believe that it’s important for all offices to keep the introvert in mind when enforcing rules and positioning their employees. Allowing introverts — and all other employees, for that matter — to wear headphones while they work not only keeps employees happy, but creates a positive work environment as well.
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Read this: 21 Undeniable Signs That You’re an Introvert