A Blog about Sensory Processing Sensitivity from the Worldview of a High Sensing Male
I worked in a corporate environment for most of my career. I lasted for about 30 years until I finally ran into my professional Waterloo in 2010. It was a merger of two megabanks, the inevitable marriage of two disparate cultures brought about by the 2008 mortgage collapse. I don't know if that inspired the toxic environment of that merger, but the two cultures did not blend well. One a Southern and Eastern banking giant and the other a Midwestern and Western bank – a merger of equals on paper. The toxicity began early and lasted for me until I could not take it anymore. It was a cutthroat and uncivil merger with a backstabbing and dog-eating dog mentality and absolutely toxic for this HSP.
I knew then that I was done. My health suffered under the weight of persistent stress, unrealistic deadlines, and ambiguous goals. I knew I had to get away, and I had to leave everything I knew, the comfort of the familiar, a steady paycheck, and old colleagues I had worked with for years.
It was the smartest thing I've done in my life. And, perhaps, the bravest.
Toxic environments, which often produce staff's toxic productivity expectations, are more common than ever today. Work-life balance is touted from mahogany row halls but rarely translates into reality for the workers far below. Squeezing the last hour out of every employee is a norm that is killing us all, but it is kryptonite for HSPs.
What is toxic productivity?
Toxic productivity, by definition, is an obsessive need always to be productive, regardless of the cost to personal health, relationships, and life. It is a bias toward "doing" instead of being, appearing to be busy, thus extolling the virtues of productivity. Toxic productivity has been around for a long time but is reflective of the workaholism of 2022. It is an "always on" mentality that values every hour of every day as an opportunity to produce. There is no room for downtime, no time for self or self-reflection, and no time for rest. A toxic corporate energy mindset focuses on consuming production to facilitate profit.
It is symptomatic of modern-day Capitalism, exploiting the worker and creating the toxic work environments we see more and more of. And yes, I'm going after Capitalism. Any economic system that is out of balance risks going off the rails, and if not to benefit the many, what benefit does it have for society? Toxic workplaces condone and elicit toxic productivity. The worker must keep at productivity to keep up, sacrificing more of their lives to keep the wheel spinning.
What is the cause? It easily profits the corporate owners, but the reason the workers continue to accept this is the long-held and almost sacred Puritan work ethic that was foundational for this country. Although supported by Catholics before the Reformation, this work ethic founded in Protestant Christian theology emphasizes diligence, discipline, and frugality. A premium is placed on not being idle, which of course, is the Devil's workshop according to the old adage. Anyone not pulling their weight is considered a person of low respect. Merging this "all work no play" philosophy with the emergence of Capitalism was a natural marriage. This concession of millions of workers can largely be attributed to guilt and shame for not meeting the expectations of this outdated work ethic.
Yet, studies have shown that 80% of work productivity issues are directly related to the environment in which these employees work. Toxic workplaces have many components, including issues around ostracism, narcissism, bullying, incivility, aggressiveness, and harassment. Toxic bosses, long the drivers of toxic productivity, can lead employees to job burnout and contribute to employee mental and physical health issues, depression, anxiety, work overload, and sleeping problems.
Toxic workers, who may become emboldened by a toxic work environment, are prone to creating more toxicity amongst their coworkers. Therefore, toxic bosses, often defined by their overconfidence and tendency towards exploitation, can model toxic productivity as an unstated but assumed requirement for success at the company. This toxicity is bad for the employees and directly affects productivity for the company, defeating the purpose of getting more from employees. It has been shown that 8% of workers' health-related costs can be attributed to bad management.
Talk about screwing your cha-cha here. Yet, somehow, this must be overlooked in M.B.A. programs.
What's a toxic work environment look like for HSPs?
If these environments are toxic for the masses, then HSPs will likely never thrive here. Anything with a prerequisite of toxic productivity will suck the life out of most HSPs. I'm not saying we are not stoic or willing to take one for the team, but really, we should be very wary of a work environment that has any of the following characteristics:
One work-life coach advises that we exercise a sense of professional detachment to work. Too much work and too little life are not good. This means learning to say no. In today's work climate, more and more people are letting their feet do the talking if an environment no longer meets their expectations. This concept of work as an extension of who we are instead of the dreaded state of being a "job" seems to align with what younger workers demand. I hope that employers are taking notice. Workers are now more mobile and selective.
If the work environment feels toxic for you, it probably is, and you should take notice. Not fitting in is a feeling many HSPs experience. The point is – to find the right fit for you. Work can be a source of great achievement and feelings of accomplishment. Meaningful and purposeful work can bring you great satisfaction and joy. Truly, there are many elements to the right work, but only you are the one that will know for sure if it is the right fit for you. There is no shame in continually striving and looking for that fit. Remember the orchid metaphor that you will not thrive and grow in the wrong environment. You are the orchid.
If you can't find the right fit, consider creating your perfect environment. More and more HSPs are becoming solo entrepreneurs, whether baking bread, coaching fellow HSPs, becoming counselors or therapists, or finding some extremely creative and novel way of bringing a business to life. When you are in charge, the environment you create will be good for you, and likely, others you hire will see it as a dream job to work with you and the harmonious environment you create.
This is very important to all HSPs. The environment is everything to us. Work consumes much of everyone's day, and why shouldn't you have a great work environment that will aid in your thriving and growing? We must treat this as a priority in our lives. Take stock of yourself and craft the world in which you can live your best life with your abundant creative energy. Toxic productivity, workplaces, and bosses are things you don't have to tolerate.
Please comment with your thoughts.
Bill Allen currently lives in Bend, Oregon. He is a certified hypnotist and brain training coach at BrainPilots.com. He believes that male sensitivity is not so rare, but it can be confounding for most males living in a culture of masculine insensitivity which teaches boys and men to disconnect from their feelings and emotions. His intent is to use this blog to chronicle his personal journey and share with others.