What’s it like to hear voices at work?
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
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 stigma, discrimination 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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
Find out more
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.