18 December 2023

Understanding introverts in the workplace

five lightbulbs, the one in the middle being lit up.

We live in an extrovert’s world. From the classroom through to the workplace, extrovert characteristics are consistently promoted and rewarded. Introversion, on the other hand, is often misunderstood, or treated with suspicion. This is particularly true in the workplace, which can lead to poor workplace wellness.

We’re starting to see more focus on inclusion in the workplace, leading to such events as world introvert day – an event designed to help people better understand and appreciate what it means to be an introvert. 

Everyone is different

No two people are alike, and the same applies to introverts. Some are more introverted than others, and some people can be a mix of both depending on the circumstances. 

These inherent differences are partly due to the way human brains are wired, and in particular the way they respond to dopamine – a chemical released when we seek external rewards. While both introverts and extroverts produce the same amount of dopamine, the former are more sensitive to it. 

While higher levels of dopamine can make an extrovert feel good, the same amount could make an introvert feel overwhelmed and anxious. This is why they may prefer to spend time alone than in large groups. 

There are more introverts than you think

According to the Myers-Briggs company, introverts make up 56.8% of the population, which would suggest that’s most of the population. At the very least, that’s a pretty big chunk of your workforce. The problem is the typical workplace doesn’t reflect this.  

In fact, most workplaces show an overwhelming bias towards extroversion. You can see this reflected in job ads, where office environments are described as ‘fast paced’ and ‘dynamic’, while looking for people who are ‘outgoing’ and ‘high-energy’. Nine out of ten UK workers report feeling pressured to behave like an extrovert, which is known as ‘masking’. 

It's not about being shy

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what introversion is. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the same thing as being shy or unsociable – although these things can overlap. In reality, they can enjoy socialising just as much as extroverts, but they approach relationships in a slightly different way. 

Introverts tend to find big groups exhausting and have less interest in small talk. Instead, they prefer to get to know people in one-to-one situations, and to discuss things on a deeper level. For this reason, they may find it more difficult to make connections in the workplace, where socialising typically happens in large groups, and on a more superficial level. 

They need time alone

Perhaps the key difference between introverts and extroverts is how we get our energy. Introverts need time alone to recharge their batteries and process their thoughts, while extroverts are energised by being around other people. If you’re an introvert, being in a noisy group environment can be mentally draining – even if you enjoy it and get on with the people.  

Listen and observe

When it comes to generating ideas and making decisions, introverts tend to prefer time to reflect rather than thinking on the spot. This can make group brainstorming sessions or impulse decisions particularly difficult. But this ability to take a step back and reflect on problems can be useful. They might spot problems others can miss. 

Really, there’s no right or wrong way to approach decision making and the creative process. The key is to understand that people think differently – some love bouncing ideas off others in a fast-paced environment, while others need to go away and process their thoughts quietly. By allowing only one approach, we could be missing out on valuable insights and ideas.  

Peace and quiet

For many people, the lively atmosphere of the open-plan office is what gets them through the day. But this isn’t the case for everyone. Introverts are typically more sensitive to external stimuli, which can make the modern work environment extremely challenging. In order to think clearly, introverts often require peace and quiet- or at the very least a space where they don’t need to be sociable. 

While it’s impossible to suit everyone’s needs all of the time, employers can play their part by allowing a degree of flexibility. This could mean allowing people to work from home when they need to, or providing a quiet space where they can gain focus.  

So why do we need to raise awareness?

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace is vital, and so it’s important to understand that we all different. If we force everyone into the same mould, we risk alienating those that don’t naturally fit, which has a major impact on mental health and wellbeing. 

Just like extroverts, introverts bring many unique qualities to the workplace, and can offer new perspectives. To make the most of these qualities, we need to create a workplace where everyone is accepted, and where everyone can thrive. 

To learn more about how you can improve mental wellbeing at work, and ensure everyone in your organisation is given the opportunity to succeed, check out our employee experience report. 

Emma Reid headshot

Emma Reid

Content writer at MHR

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