Introverts in the workplace: Dispelling the myths you’ve heard.
It's no secret that a lot of things in society are geared towards extraverts. Humans are an inherently social species, so it makes sense that social behaviour tends to get championed and rewarded. This can often be to the detriment of introverts, who are easily drained by prolonged interaction and need to "œrecharge" by getting some alone time. This can also make their working life more difficult, as workplaces are often highly social environments with policies based on an extraverted mind-set.
Stereotypes of introverted people
Introverted people still have a few stereotypes hanging over them. There have been plenty of articles on the topic over the years, but we'd still like to briefly address some of the main points:
Introverts aren't necessarily shy: It can be easy to misinterpret introversion as shyness. While the two may overlap for some people, shyness is about anxiety and lack of confidence in social situations. Introversion is more of a need to re-energise from the stimulation of social situations by getting some quiet time away from others.
Or lonely, either: It's important to remember that introverts particularly value time by themselves and that they aren't sad and disconnected while doing it. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that introverts and extraverts spent similar amounts of time socialising.
They also don't hate people: The satisfaction introverts get from their alone time doesn't stem from a dislike of other people. Like we said, humans are social creatures, and introverts are no exception to that. Being introverted doesn't make someone immune to the negative effects of prolonged isolation, and they still have a need to socialise.
The University of Illinois study also found that when participating introverts were asked to take on the role of an extravert, they exhibited a similar boost to happiness as actual extraverted participants. This shows that although they need their alone time, introverts value being socially active and get many of the same benefits from it as extraverted people.
Introverts bring their own strengths to the workplace
Look up practically any article on the benefits of introverts in the workplace, and it'll probably mention Susan Cain. She wrote the 2013 best-selling book, "œQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking", which has been a major influence on the current dialogue around introverts.
Introverts can be very observant: One of the strengths most commonly attributed to introverted employees is their ability to take everything in. While they might not speak up in meetings as much as their extraverted colleagues, they're often worth circling back to for insight. In her book, Cain highlighted that while extraverts typically take more general risks, introverts tend to make risks that are more calculated.
Introverts can make great leaders: Although they're often stereotyped as shy, introverts have qualities that make them great for management roles. Some research suggests that the reason fewer introverts occupy leadership roles than extraverts because many are unsure of their ability to do the job. However, according to a study published in the Academy of Management Journal, introverts make more effective leaders for proactive (i.e. not passive) teams than extraverts, who did not respond as well to having to manage proactive teams as they did passive ones.
Introverts are reliable and independent workers:
The alone time that introverts value so much isn't just for unwinding. It's where they do their best thinking. And given that they often prefer to think things through, they're ideal for projects without much supervision involved, because introverts do their best work when left to get on with things.
Introverts are conducive to a calm workplace: Introverts tend to be less chatty, but that's not the only reason they can have a calming effect. They also tend to listen more. In an interview with the careers website Ladders, psychologist Farah Harris pointed this out:
"˜Being cool and collected are great qualities to have as a leader. This calming presence can help decrease stress and allows for others to have a voice at the table. No one likes a boss who is loud and takes over meetings without leaving room for input.'
Making your organisation more introvert-friendly
But for all their good qualities, introverts can struggle in workplace cultures that typically reward extraverted behaviours. In her book, Susan Cain pointed out that between a third and a half of us are introverted. So it's in the best interests of employers everywhere to figure out how best to manage introverted employees to make the most of their strengths.
Introverts stand to benefit from, and would be ideal candidates for, various kinds of flexible work. Remote work is an especially good fit for them. Mind you, we're definitely not saying you should turn all your introverted staff into remote workers. After all, being introverted doesn't stop someone valuing a connection to their co-workers. But giving them the option to work at least some of their hours remotely would benefit both their wellbeing and productivity.
But remote work isn't the only aspect to consider. If your only solution is getting all the introverts out of the office, then your office isn't exactly introvert-friendly, after all. In the right office, a bit of chatter can be great for morale and team cohesion, but to some, it can be distracting. If you have the space, it can help to designate a room for quiet work, so introverted staff can go somewhere to think. Some of your extraverted staff might even appreciate the option as well.
Finally, many introverts prefer written forms of communication where they can take their time to formulate a response and therefore feel less 'on the spot'. When monitoring their wellbeing and performance, a tool for regular, online written check-ins can be quite helpful. For example, our weekly employee check-in allows managers to customise questions for each employee's update, and respond to their individual answers. Employees can also give each other positive recognition in their updates, which can be great for building bonds between your introverted and extraverted team members.
And don't forget that a weekly check-in is perfect for your remote teams as well. We're well aware that we've been going on about remote work an awful lot lately, but it is genuinely one of the best ways to support introverts and their careers. To learn more about improving accessibility and inclusivity in the workplace, check out the Weekly10 blog!