Diversity and inclusion have increasingly become integral pillars for businesses, especially within the past few years. We’re seeing more companies devoting resources to programmes that help drive this cause, with a study expecting the global market for diversity and inclusion to reach US$15.4 billion in size by 2026. This is a fantastic and much-needed trend that would benefit many employees.
Amid this push for more inclusivity and diversity, can companies not only recognise introverts in the workplace but also advocate for them, too?
The World of Work
Workplace cultures tend to favour active, highly sociable, go-getter attitudes, and people who are eager to voice their opinions, interact and network. These are attributes often associated with “extroverts”, an all-too-familiar term that describes a person who derives their energy from their external surroundings (conversely, “introverts” derive their energy internally; for example, by reflecting on or thinking about ideas and memories).
Long before the pandemic struck, it seemed that virtually every workplace had an open-office plan, which effectively killed the notion of privacy or “your own quiet space in the office”. Ultimately, the modern office was the ideal environment for more sociable workers to thrive and to get ahead of their peers. It enabled a competitive corporate culture that greatly suited extroverted qualities. What we see online would corroborate this, with research finding that highly extroverted people have a 25% chance of being in a higher-earning job.
But what about our introverted colleagues? These are the co-workers who might be described (whether accurately or not) as your “quiet” deliverers, the team members who may not be as sociable, active or loud, or who prefer to limit their interactions with others. How did they cope in an office environment that was not conducive to their natural inclination for quiet, calm and privacy?
Well, they did what they had to—they adapted so that they could survive in a corporate world that wasn’t created for them.
But then COVID-19 swept the world and turned all of our ideas about work on its head.
The Great Disruptor
With the pandemic forcing everyone to stay home, remote work became the default. Face-to-face meetings—where the more vocal you are, the more you get to assert your presence—vanished. Office social gatherings were curtailed or prohibited, and completing your tasks alone became the centrepiece of your workday.
The world of work became an introvert’s dream, with articles and opinion pieces declaring how it was time for introverts to shine. It seems that this sudden paradigm shift shook the world of extroverts to the core, while those who didn’t necessarily seek active socialisation at work (like me) thrived or were hardly bothered by it. If the pandemic has shown anything, it’s that the constant need to be “always on” at the office isn’t necessary to succeed at one’s job.
Finding the right balance
With the world opening up again as we enter a post-COVID reality, there needs to be a balance where both extroverted or introverted employees can be allowed to contribute in their own ways.
While I personally am relieved at the work-from-home revolution, being a self-proclaimed introvert myself, I can also recognise that always working from home may not be suitable or sustainable for all employees. Ultimately, my preferred way of working is as much of an imbalance in workplace culture as requiring everyone to work full-time in an open office environment is. Any focus on one biased environment over another is damaging as it benefits only one group of people rather than considering the varying, nuanced needs of your extroverts and introverts, and those in between.
As more companies slowly make the shift back to the office, we’ve seen a rise in flexible or hybrid work arrangements, which is encouraging and could be the happy medium for all employees. What’s more, studies have shown that flexible work arrangements boost productivity, work-life balance and employee engagement.
This is why it’s important to find a middle ground, and companies and their employees can each play a part in moulding a workplace culture that is diverse and inclusive.
Recognise that introversion =/= weak
So what else can businesses and organisations do? For starters, much like how they need to recognise and celebrate the value of having employees from different backgrounds, companies also need to acknowledge and recognise the value that employees with introverted qualities can bring. The common misconception about introverted people is that they’re shy or meek or hesitant to voice their opinions. This is far from true, and leads to the strange notion that they need to be brought out of their shell with intensely social activities like ice breakers or networking.
Rather, business and team leaders should strive to make the most of their introverted team members’ innate capabilities and understand how those qualities can complement a team or business. Researchers and experts believe that empathy, good listening skills and deep thinking are the hallmarks of introversion.
So providing appropriate time and space for reflection before approaching a problem is key to an introvert’s ability to contribute and communicate effectively. With this in mind, companies should strive to create a work environment where introverts don’t feel the constant pressure to say something if they have nothing of value to add at that moment. In the same vein, providing a physical space where an employee can sit and think in private can be incredibly beneficial, especially in today’s modern offices where there’s constant activity and disruptions.
Introverts, rise up!
At the same time, employees who consider themselves introverted can play a part, too. How? By tapping into their own unique strengths and finding avenues that allow them to be heard. For example, if the thought of big group meetings is not your cup of tea, make an effort to do 1-on-1 meet-ups with people instead.
If you didn’t get the chance to contribute in a meeting or brainstorming session, follow up with an email or a private message to share your thoughts and ideas. Arrange for quick chats with your manager just to update them on your tasks and progress, as this helps establish rapport in your own way and in a space where you don’t have to compete for attention or shout to be heard.
These are small steps that can make a difference. Crucially, introverts should remember that they deserve to be recognised and to work in an environment where their qualities are not seen as weaknesses but as assets.
All in all, businesses and organisations need to widen their perception of what makes an ideal employee. By leveraging each other’s differences, we can create a work environment that provides ample space for different people to feel included, respected and valued.
CTA: Have any thoughts about workplace culture that you’re eager to share? Let it all out at [email protected]