How employers can support introverts in the workplace

People who are extroverts in the office are always seen as more confident, and take their energy from social interactions with other people.

James Rowland

Commercial Director James leads Account Management, Sales and Marketing at Neathouse Partners.

Date

07 May 2024

Updated

22 May 2024
6 min read
How employers can support introverts in the workplace
12:57

People who are extroverts in the office are always seen as more confident, and take their energy from social interactions with other people. In today’s workplaces, where collaboration and networking are the norm, it’s fair to say that extroverts are more likely to naturally thrive in these environments – but where does this leave more quiet and reserved introvert workers? And how can employers support them?

According to a study reported in Refinery29, highly extroverted people have a 25% greater chance of being in a high-earning job than introverts. 65% of senior executives think introversion is a barrier to leadership.

According to Linkedin, it’s estimated that between 30-50% of the UK population are introverted, with the majority of workplaces in the U.S., UK and Europe biased towards extroverts.

It’s important for employers to recognise and support the diverse needs of their employees. Research has shown that introverts represent a significant demographic, and they have unique traits that could sometimes be overlooked in the workplace. This article will examine how employers can better support introverted employees, including the challenges introverts may face, different types of introverts, and whether they’re more prone to stress. It will also take a look at how some organisations’ recruitment processes may inadvertently discriminate against introverted individuals, and how employers can create an inclusive environment that empowers and supports introverted employees.

 

What stresses or overwhelms an introvert?

Whether or not a person is introverted or extroverted impacts how they experience and handle stress. Depending on how introverted a person is, they can internalise stress to the point where it becomes so deeply swallowed, that other people around them do not notice they are stressed at all. Because of their struggles in being unable to naturally share and express emotions with other people, seeking help as an introvert can be hard.

Usually, introverts tend to manage stressful situations by avoiding them. If they’re unable to avoid them or deal with them, they can start to feel overwhelmed. That said, it’s possible for introverts to find their own ways of coping with stress. A starting point is finding out the source of the stress and dealing with it there and then. There are particular situations that naturally cause more stress to introverts, and it’s important that managers and business owners are aware of this to give all staff fair opportunities. Here are some common scenarios that bring extra stress to introverts:

 

A lack of opportunity for contemplation and solitude

Introverts spend more time in thought than extroverts, so they relish quiet and solitary time to engage in reflection and planning. Without having the space to do this, their stress levels can rise.


Problems managing symptoms of anxiety

Stress and anxiety share common pathways in the brain, and as introverts are more prone to anticipatory anxiety and anxiety disorders, they can experience elevated stress responses. If these higher stress levels aren’t tackled early, this can cause deeper levels of worry and anxiety.

 

Problems in avoiding overly stimulating environments

Extroverts thrive in overly stimulating environments with lots of people and activity. This causes heightened dopamine responses in the brain, creating excitement. In contrast, introverts are more sensitive to dopamine, and tend to avoid situations that induce its release. In settings that are excessively stimulating, such as large social gatherings, introverts can feel overwhelmed.

 

What do introverts struggle with at work?

A key struggle for introverts is navigating social interactions and networking activities. Unlike their extroverted counterparts who thrive in group settings, and who can easily and readily engage in small talk, introverts may find these situations draining and uncomfortable. It’s important to remember that introverted members of a team may struggle to build rapport with colleagues or assert themselves in team settings.

Introverts also need ample time for solitary focus and deep thinking to perform at their best, and they may prefer remote working roles where they can work with little interruption. This can be more challenging when open office layouts, hybrid and office working and constant collaboration can hinder their concentration and productivity. Interruptions and excessive noise from colleagues in the office can also disrupt their thought processes, leading to frustration and difficulty completing tasks.

A main problem for introverted people is self-promotion and advocating for their contributions. Typically, they may not like to draw attention to their accomplishments or speak up in meetings, fearing they may come across as arrogant or overly confident. Management may overlook them for promotions or other career opportunities like events, leadership or networking.

As an employer, having a greater understanding of the challenges faced by introverts, and implementing strategies to accommodate introverted employees, can foster a more inclusive and supportive working environment. Employers who offer remote or flexible working arrangements, provide quiet spaces for focused work, or encourage alternative communication methods such as email, can empower introverts to thrive in their roles.

 

What are the four types of introverts?

There are actually four different types of introvert. Some people can fall into more than one category, or even be a mix of all four. Here’s a brief guide to each:

 

Social

This type of introvert is likely the most closely linked to the typical definition of ‘introversion’. A social introvert likes socialising in smaller groups rather than large ones. Sometimes, a person who falls into this category may even prefer to only socialise with one other person, or to be completely alone. They feel more comfortable in more intimate gatherings with close friends, as opposed to attending large parties filled with colleagues or strangers. This preference isn’t driven by anxiety, but it is different from being ‘shy’.

 

Thinking

If a person has a high level of thinking introversion, they will tend to reflect on their thoughts and behaviours a lot, to the point where they may daydream more than usual. This is in contrast to an extrovert who may say what they are thinking aloud for others to hear, or openly share their feelings with others.

 

Anxious

Anxious introverts may seek solitude due to feeling awkward or self-conscious around others. It stems from an overall lack of confidence in their social skills. This anxiety still remains even when the person is completely alone. This type of introvert may also have a tendency to mull over things that might go wrong, or that haven’t worked.

 

Restrained

Restrained introverts prefer to think before they speak or act. They may also require some time to get started in the morning. It’s unlikely you’ll find them leaping out of bed and immediately springing into action. This type of person is likely to prefer flexible working with later start times to allow them to get going.

 

Are introverts prone to burnout?

Technically, anyone is prone to burnout if they feel overwhelmed by stress, but introverts are more susceptible to burnout if they’re in situations that overwhelm them – such as social situations with large gatherings of people. The need to use lots of energy in a social situation can leave an introvert feeling tired and emotionally drained. Introverts typically need periods of solitude to recharge.

If they don’t have the adequate time and space to do this, or are consistently pushed beyond their limits in social or work settings, (having tasks requested of them such as giving presentations, leading team meetings or attending large networking events), they become more susceptible to burnout.

Burnout encompasses physical and emotional exhaustion, and can cause reduced performance, feelings of detachment and a generally low mood. Introverts are often in tune with their limits, but they need to create boundaries to prevent burnout. Engaging in activities that align with their introverted nature, such as spending time alone or engaging in hobbies they enjoy, can help them maintain feelings of balance.

 

What can employers do to help prevent introvert burnout?

It’s likely that as an employer, you’ll have introverts in your team. Here are steps you can take to support their well-being and prevent burnout:

  • Understand that introverts may have different work preferences and energy levels compared to extroverts.
  • Offer flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options or flexible scheduling, to allow introverts to manage their energy levels more effectively.
  • Encourage an office culture that respects personal boundaries and autonomy rather than micromanagement. Avoid unnecessary meetings or interruptions, and respect introverts’ preferences for quiet spaces when they need to focus.
  • Give introverts opportunities for communication that play to their strengths, such as through written emails, written messaging or one-on-one meetings.
  • Promote breaks during the day in which introverts can recharge.
  • Offer support and encouragement to introverted employees, acknowledging their contributions and strengths. Don’t do this in front of large groups – communicate it privately or in written form.
  • Create smaller group activities or structured networking sessions so introverts don’t feel overwhelmed.

What do managers think of quiet employees?

Managers’ perceptions of quiet employees can vary depending on their leadership style, organisational culture and opinions. It’s still acknowledged that even though there’s more understanding about introverts and the values they bring to an office, many workplaces are still designed with extroverts in mind.

Managers may view quiet employees positively, recognising their strengths in listening attentively, thinking carefully before speaking, and having a strong focus when they are given tasks. They may appreciate the quiet employee’s ability to contribute thoughtful insights and maintain calm without conflict.

However, other managers may view being quiet and introverted as a lack of engagement, confidence, or leadership potential. They may mistakenly view quiet workers as disinterested in their roles, or lacking drive, which can lead to their ideas being overlooked, or they could be passed over for opportunities to progress.

Effective managers understand the importance of embracing diversity in their teams. This diversity can come in a range of communication styles and personalities. Managers should aim to understand and promote the strengths of both quiet and outgoing employees, providing them with equal opportunities to contribute in ways that align with their strengths and preferences. This can help employers to get the most out of their teams through collaboration.

 

Introverts and hiring processes

Employers should be aware that their chosen recruitment processes could unintentionally discriminate against introverts by favouring extroverts’ communication styles. Inviting job candidates to group presentations or Zoom calls with multiple participants can put introverts at a disadvantage, as they may feel overwhelmed, stressed, or find it difficult to assert themselves. These formats may not accurately reflect introverts’ skills and abilities, and they could be overlooked for a position based on their personality traits rather than their CVs.

HR management should take steps to make hiring processes more inclusive for introverted individuals. Offer candidates a mixture of assessment methods, such as written assignments or one-on-one interviews. This will allow introverts to showcase their skills and abilities in environments where they feel more comfortable and confident. This will also help hiring managers and interviewers to recognise and appreciate introverted qualities, such as deep listening, critical thinking, and strategic problem-solving.

 

Create a diverse and inclusive workplace for all

Our team of professionals at Neathouse Partners can offer advice on creating policies and procedures that encourage diversity and inclusion across your business. We can also ensure compliance with health and safety legislation, and upholding your duty of care as an employer.

Call us on 01244 893776 today, or use our contact form.

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