By nature, introverted employees like to keep a low profile. They’re often quiet, they crave solitude, and they may avoid anything that remotely approaches conflict. But introverted employees bring with them plenty of positive qualities that make them tremendous assets (as proven by such introverts as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos). They like to think things through thoroughly before they take action, they are analytical by nature, they’re great listeners, and they actually do enjoy social interaction and attention—just in a way that is different than extroverts.
According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, up to 50% of all employees are introverts. As a leader, it’s critical that you get the most you can from these employees, ensuring that they have opportunities to be top performers instead of ignored in favor of their louder, more extroverted counterparts. Even furniture maker Steelcase has recognized this opportunity, recently designing an entire line of Quiet Spaces offices to get the most out of introverted employees.
You can turn your introverted employees into top performers by following these five prescriptions, which are derived in part from Steelcase’s research.
1. Minimize Interruptions
When workers are interrupted (which research shows, happens once every 11 minutes or so), it can take them up to 25 minutes to get back on track. Introverts are particularly sensitive to interruptions, and they are more easily overwhelmed by distractions. Do what you can to personally avoid interrupting your employees’ workflow unless absolutely necessary, and encourage your people to avoid interrupting one another.
2. Give Them Permission to be Alone
Recognize that your introverted employees have a different way of working than your extroverted employees, and that they have a need for periods of solitude during the course of the workday. This allows them to better think and focus on their work while recharging their batteries following social interactions with customers, vendors, and co-workers. Give your introverts explicit permission to be alone so they know that you won’t penalize them from seeking the solitude that they need to function effectively.
3. Provide Them With Control Over Their Environment
Introverts are more sensitive to external stimulation, from noise to light to temperature, and more. When possible, provide them with the ability to control their own environment. This could include providing anything from light dimmers or desk lamps to thermostats or windows that open to the ability to escape to quieter office spaces when necessary.
4. Provide Quiet Spaces
According to research, 90% of workers today say that they need quiet, private places to do their work. However, more than 40% of workers report that they don’t have them in their own workplaces. It’s hard for employees—especially your introverted employees, who naturally crave quiet—to focus on their work when the environment is noisy or co-workers are loud and rowdy. Help them perform better by providing them with quiet offices, workstations, or work areas where they can better focus on tasks.
5. Create a Psychologically Safe Place to Work
When working in an open-office environment, introverts feel like they are the center of attention and that they are under the direct scrutiny of their co-workers. This causes them to become anxious and uncomfortable, and will inevitably disrupt their ability to focus on their work, decreasing their productivity. Provide your people with safe places where they can work without be constantly observed and scrutinized by their co-workers.
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