Introverted employees can be a great asset to any organisation, but only if you help them thrive.
For too long, an introverted personality has been seen as a negative thing. Some people view such traits as shy, weak, lacking in confidence and antisocial.
As a HR professional, it’s important for you to remember that not all shy people are introverts and not all introverts are shy, and that the personality traits associated with these individuals are not negative.
In fact, introverts can be a serious asset to any organisation. They have a very different set of skills that extroverts cannot imitate.
Studies show that one out of every two or three people are introverts, which means it’s quite likely that between 33pc and 50pc of your company falls into this category. But are you hearing everyone’s voice or just the loudest ones?
You might view introverts as less enthusiastic members of your team, or perhaps you don’t see them as the ‘idea people’ of the group. However, open brainstorming sessions and group meetings is where extroverts thrive, so could it be that you’re simply not giving your introverted employees a comfortable environment to express themselves in?
Offering such an opportunity is not special treatment, as the extroverts of the group most likely already have the advantage. Being aware of introverted employees and giving them a chance to thrive is merely levelling the playing field.
A completely open-plan office serves extroverts best. As a HR professional, you won’t have to build your introverts their own private offices.
However, you could look at your empty office space and evaluate where the quieter spots of the office are. Do they afford the worker that sits there the opportunity to tune out of the office-wide discussions?
If quiet corners aren’t feasible, you should work to create a culture whereby it’s acceptable for workers to put their headphones in to block out external distractions without being considered antisocial.
Heading into group meetings all at once can create a loud atmosphere. Brainstorming sessions in which employees are put on the spot to come up with ideas will only benefit the extroverts and overshadow the introverts.
To rectify this, consider sending out a meeting brief prior to the meeting itself to let everyone know what it will be about ahead of time. Give the introverts a chance to arrange their thoughts.
Alternatively, meetings at Amazon, for example, begin in silence and everyone who attends must read a memo on the topic there and then before they speak.
Introverts can often prefer written communication over face-to-face communication.
Similar to the pre-meeting memo, sending an email before you approach introverted employees will give them more time to reflect and come up with strong ideas.
An email ahead of a phone conversation or in-person conversation can mentally prepare them and afford them a chance to unlock their creativity.
Think about how you source your candidates. Does your recruitment process include a group interview portion? Is it really necessary, or is it just to save time?
Introverts perform better on a one-to-one basis. Therefore, group interviews will automatically put them at a disadvantage, even if they are the more qualified candidate.
That is not to say that team tasks are a bad idea or that introverts are not good team players. A common pitfall for HR is to assume all introverts are better off working on their own all the time. In reality, while they do need downtime to reflect, they also work extremely well in small groups of three or four.
For company events or away days for your employees, it’s important to remember the above point.
Big competitive events with a lot of socialising are an extrovert’s dream. However, it’s important not to accidentally exclude or segregate the introverts in a bid to keep them out of uncomfortable situations.
Finding a balance is key in these situations, and the more you apply in-office strategies to encourage introverts and make them more comfortable, the more you’ll get to know where their strengths and weaknesses lie.
Updated, 11.07am, 14 April 2017: An amendment was made to correct an estimate of the number of introverts that are likely to be in an organisation.