An open-plan, no-walls workplace. Team outings every second Wednesday, and office parties every third Friday. A sunny, spacious room for daily brainstorming. Bean bags, snack counters and cheerful notices announcing events and birthdays at every nook and cranny.
Informal, collegial, social and non-hierarchical – you think you’ve hit the sweet spot for organizational culture.
But what if 30-50 percent of your employees are introverted?
What if they feel drained when forced to work amid constant chatter, and crave a quiet, closed space instead?
What if they feel resentful every office social they have to attend to build bonds, when they’d rather approach their relationships slowly, one-at-a-time?
What if there’s a million-dollar idea trapped in their head, simply because they cannot clearly express it in a brainstorm, and that’s the only way you encourage employees to speak up?
What if 30-50 percent of your employees are unhappy in spite of your efforts to make your company a ‘fun’ place to work at?
Contrary to cultural perceptions, research has established that introversion is not a handicap against professional success, leadership skills or team working ability. In fact, introverts bring a unique set of strengths to the table, and often conquer their weaknesses if a role demands. Yet, many companies tend to build their culture and policies with only extroverts in mind.
Considering that roughly one third to one half of the population tends to be introverted, this implies that 1 in every 2 or 3 employees at your company could be overlooked, under-tapped and dissatisfied.
Here are three basic steps that can be taken to make introverts feel welcome and at their productive best in the workplace:
Step 1: Eliminate the Taboo
Introversion has long been stigmatized as a sign of failure or inferiority. As such, introverts often ‘act extroverted’ when on their jobs. This closet behavior can leave them exhausted with an overstimulating lifestyle, and missing out on the solitude they need to recharge.
To help avoid frustrations later, organizations can make it a point to discuss the issue at the recruitment stage itself. They can clarify that they do not regard introversion as a disadvantage, thereby encouraging candidates to be open about their personality type.
Such a conversation can also help candidates/ employees freely discuss their preferences and apprehensions regarding the organization and its culture, and the two parties can then mutually identify ways to address any concerns.
Finally, other employees in the organization, particularly managers, can be educated about the different personality types and what works best for each.
Step 2: Customize the Culture
First, the office can be reorganized to include open spaces as well as cabins, for accommodating the needs of both extroverts (who feel energized in the presence of people) and introverts (who feel energized away from people). If constructing cabins is not feasible, secluded corners can be marked as ‘thinking spots’ for employees who need alone time during work hours. These can act as comfort or retreat zones for introverts.
Second, team-building efforts can be redesigned to acknowledge the constraints of introverts. Instead of making attendance at office socials mandatory, introverts can be given cross-functional or team-wide projects to expose them to employees they do not typically interact with. This can be helpful because introverts socialize better when they have an agenda to discuss.
Third, managers can be asked to encourage idea generation not simply in meetings and brainstorming sessions, but also through emails, chats or private conversations. In fact, in order to save time, such brainstorms can be made voluntary activities instead of compulsory, because introverts require solitude to come up with ideas and often also need the written word to express themselves clearly.
Step 3: Set Processes for Communication
Many organizations do not have a formal system to keep track of the work done by an employee. While extroverts are able to openly and proactively speak to their managers and team-members about any good work that they’re doing, introverts find it hard to speak about their own work unless it is required (for example, at an appraisal meeting), or asked for.
This can result in coloring a manager’s perception of the work done by his team members. They might even misunderstand it as a sign of lack of interest. Further, it can discredit an introvert’s statements when appraisals happen, whereas an extrovert’s self-evaluation will have higher recall value.
In order to prevent this, a process must be put in place whereby all team members are required to update their progress periodically. This can be done through an Excel sheet or any task management software.
Similar processes can also be defined for other aspects of workplace communication.
Being informed and making a few minor changes in your work culture can go a long way in enabling your employees give their best to work. As Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts put it, “everyone shines, given the right lighting.”
Make sure you give your introverted employees the right light!