An introvert’s survival guide to the workplace
Experts give tips on how introverts can cope with the social pressures of today’s office
Busy workplaces can be a daily challenge for introverts. Photograph: iStock
Do you dread those morning brainstorm meetings, avoid small talk by the coffee machine at all costs, or simply feel drained by the frenzied office environment?
You probably don’t need a personality assessment to figure out whether you’re an introvert or not, but navigating your way through the contemporary workplace may require some figuring out.
We spoke to the experts about how introverts can cope with the social pressures of the 9-5.
Know your worth
Since its 2012 release, Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking has been credited with championing the essential role of introverts in society. In the New York Times bestseller, the author regularly refers to some of the world’s most influential people including Charles Darwin, Rosa Parks and Gandhi.
One thing they had in common? They were all introverts.
Co-founder of Irish remote jobs hub Abodoo. com Vanessa Tierney says employers are now recognising the importance of having a diverse workforce, one that balances the outspoken folk with the quieter, deep thinkers. “With the tech revolution, we have discovered that introverts can create amazing businesses,” she says. “The workplace is becoming more of a balanced field.”
Kevin Quigley, Research and Innovation Psychologist at Seven Psychology at Work, says that people have no reason to believe that being an introvert is a bad thing. He refers to what are known as the five personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. “Research is clear, that however high you are on the extroversion scale, it doesn’t affect work performance and this is true across all sectors. Conscientiousness and openness are important. They predict success.”
Find your niche
While it’s impossible to love every aspect of work, dreading each day because the environment doesn’t suit your personality is a waste of time for you and your employer. Instead of trying to mould yourself into a top salesperson, take the time to recognise your personal strengths, preferences and work goals.
“If you’re an introvert, it’s important to be aware of it. Different personalities are more naturally suited to different roles,” explains Quigley, who adds that finding a job that suits your personality is not only important for productivity, but for mental wellbeing.
“We talk about bringing the whole self to work. This can be difficult if the role is not a fit with your personality. You can pretend for a while, but over an extended period of time, it can be very draining.”
Take time out
In her book, Cain notes the difference between a shy person and an introvert. While a shy person may avoid social interactions, an introvert can be good socially, but becomes overly stimulated with too much socialisation.
“One of the challenges for introverts is that they prefer less stimulation than extroverts. Open plan offices can be fine for them, but recharging their batteries and recovering from this kind of environment will take some time,” explains associate professor in Organisational Psychology at DCU, Dr Janine Bosak. “Getting the opportunity to break out of that environment and find a quiet corner is critical during the day. Research in occupational health psychology shows that people who constantly are not able to refill their energy resources will burn out over time and experience emotional exhaustion.”
In any career, you’ll eventually be required to speak out and that’s bound to feel uncomfortable. If an introvert is also shy, the initial job interview itself can be a stressful situation.
“Shy introverts benefit from thinking about what questions could arise so if their level of anxiety goes up, at least they are prepared,” advises Dr Bosak. “For the general introvert, a challenge for them is overstimulation. Sometimes jobseekers may have multiple interviews in the one day. My advice for introverts: if possible, have the interviews spaced out so you have time to turn inward, replenish your energy, and think through how things went.”
According to Quigley, practising communication skills can also prove useful in all aspects of work, from the first interview to the weekly office meetings. He recommends beginning with one-to-one conversations and building up from there. “When you’re more confident, you’ll be more willing to speak up in a meeting scenario,” he said. “Put yourself in public speaking environments such as Toastmasters or any situation that make you a little bit nervous. Developing communication skills is the only way to overcome your fear.”
Have the conversation
If any aspects of your role are proving overwhelming, don’t be afraid to let your employer know that you’re struggling.
“I think we are in a culture now of open, honest transparency,” explains Tierney. “It has never been as good as it is today to speak about how you feel. Despite feeling at times that you’re not part of a clique, you must remember that you’re a valued member of staff. If you’re finding it hard, be brave, make an approach and have the conversation.”
Tips for employers
With many contemporary work environments leaning towards the trends of open-plan spaces, networking and team projects, it’s little wonder that introverts can find work a challenge.
Without having to completely overhaul the office, there are things an employer can do to make work comfortable for a diverse range of employees.
– Tierney trains employers to use profiling tools during recruitment in order to learn more about employees and their work preferences. “A CV is only a quarter of what someone is. Their life experiences, personality, behaviour, motivation and speed to learn are just as important.”
– Quigley agrees that being “aware of employee’s differences” is crucial for employers. “It’s important to have open conversations with people, find their appropriate work style and ask what an individual is seeking from a job.”
– In addition to “embracing diversity”, Dr Bosak recommends putting infrastructure in place in the office such as couches for those who need some quiet time throughout the day.