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Hearing voices at work

“I am working in a manual job because of the voices, even though I’m trained as a teacher and scientist. This can be frustrating, and I sometimes want them to stop so I can go back to higher thinking opportunities rather than working in the food business as I do. The food business and voice hearing has turned into my career.”

Niamh*

“I hold down a normal job and am respected in my field. Most of my colleagues are unaware of my inner voices”.

Ross*

“I would have loved to get back to work but who will hire me when I can’t get to work because I am too scared to leave the house or because I have taken too many meds and overslept?”

Valerie*

I am happy enough working away, but on a slow day the voices can make a day go faster.”

Will*

“I told my manager I heard voices at a return to work interview. I think this was a mistake because at every subsequent review by my manager I was asked if I was hearing voices. I think they used this as a barometer of my mental health”.

Alice

What’s it like to hear voices at work?

“I am working in a manual job because of the voices, even though I’m trained as a teacher and scientist. This can be frustrating, and I sometimes want them to stop so I can go back to higher thinking opportunities rather than working in the food business as I do. The food business and voice hearing has turned into my career.”

Niamh*

“I hold down a normal job and am respected in my field. Most of my colleagues are unaware of my inner voices”.

Ross*

“I would have loved to get back to work but who will hire me when I can’t get to work because I am too scared to leave the house or because I have taken too many meds and overslept?”

Valerie*

I am happy enough working away, but on a slow day the voices can make a day go faster.”

Will*

“I told my manager I heard voices at a return to work interview. I think this was a mistake because at every subsequent review by my manager I was asked if I was hearing voices. I think they used this as a barometer of my mental health”.

Alice

A recent research study in the UK found that voice-hearers can find the workplace challenging, for lots of different reasons. Some voices can be distracting, making it difficult to concentrate or focus on specific activities, interact with colleagues or clients, complete tasks or meet deadlines.  Especially loud or critical voices can make it difficult for voice-hearers to trust their judgement, decision-making abilities or actions, and they may spend extra time checking or repeating tasks – leading to longer working hours. Certain voices may be so distressing that work isn’t possible during specific periods, or at all.

Some voice-hearers find their voices are quieter or more manageable during the work day, but are overpowering and difficult to cope with during the travel to and from work. Commuting on public transport, especially at peak times, or driving to work, can be a source of great fear or anxiety for some.

Not all voices (whether they’re positive or negative) have a detrimental impact on work, and some voices can even be helpful. Voices can help people to concentrate or focus, or give useful advice or recommendations throughout the day. Some people use the messages their voices give them – about themselves, other people, or the task at hand – to remember what they need to do, manage their time or workload more effectively, meet deadlines or better cope with stress or pressure.

But researchers have also found that being at work can also affect voices in a positive way. Some people find work a valuable distraction from their voices. It can also increase self-esteem, provide a sense of accomplishment and widen social circles, which can offset some of the difficulties associated with critical, commanding or belittling voices. Having a full work diary, and being busy throughout the day, can also sometimes make voices quieter and less disruptive.

Managing voices at work

Voice-hearers use a diversity of strategies to manage distracting, difficult, overwhelming or critical voices at work. Some people listen to their voices during certain tasks or activities, talk back to them (in their mind or aloud), negotiate or bargain with them, or ignore them. Others use self-help tools such as mindfulness, deep breathing or grounding exercises. Knowing how to respond to difficult voices in the workplace can be a challenge for many people, not least because voices can respond inconsistently or in unpredictable ways. Sometimes a strategy that works on one occasion won’t work on another, so people often find it useful to try a lot of different techniques. Many of these are explored in Coping with Voices.

Many voice hearers find it hard to conceal their experiences at work and decide to share them with colleagues. Talking about voices can carry lots of challenges and risks, such as stigmaquestion icon, discriminationquestion icon and fear, but it can also lead to different forms of help, including emotional support, a range of practical changes in the workplace and financial assistance.

A conversation about voices with a team member, line manager or HR manager can mark the beginning of a period of adjustment to a person’s needs and abilities. Although this process isn’t always easy, there is some research to suggest that it gets easier over time.

See Talking about Voices for some suggestions on ways of opening up conversations about voices, and the difficulties and benefits associated with this.

Personal reflections

Explore personal experiences and reflections on coping with voices in the workplace.

Whilst driving to work in my car I would say ‘OK I promise if you leave me alone today I will listen to you both tonight when I’m at home’.

Alice

In public places and at work, I try to take breaks away from people because I find this helps in order to not become overstimulated.

Judd*

I get through the work day – I engage with my voices for periods of time and sometimes just ignore them as I am too busy.

Casseyne*

Once I was talking to my voices when a colleague walked into the office. After this happened I always went into the disabled toilets to talk to my voices.

Alice 

When things are really bad I don’t go into work. I take time out and stay at home.

Alice

My voice makes me laugh a lot. It can look a bit funny in a quiet office to be laughing to yourself, so I made some of my work colleagues aware of my condition.

Nicole*

The busier I am the quieter they get. Most of the time.

Katy

Find out more

Read

Lisa Craig, Josh Cameron and Eleanor Longden (2017). Work related experiences of people who hear voices. British Journal of Occupational Therapy. Final submitted document available freely here.

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