Think about the last meeting you were in. It was likely led by one of your coworkers and offered a chance for discussion at the end. Your department head had a few insights to add; another colleague complemented the idea; and one person sat silently and attentively throughout, never speaking a word.
While the number may feel small, there are a surprising amount of introverted employees in the workforce.
“[I]t’s a third to half of the population who are introverts. And yet it really, really does not feel that way,” said Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, in an interview with Harvard Business Review.
“And that is because introverts get into the habit of sort of trying to act like extroverts. And by the time you’re a grown up, you get quite skilled at doing this. But that doesn’t mean that that doesn’t take a toll, and that doesn’t deplete your energies that could be better directed towards actually getting your work done.”
Spotting the Quiet Types
Quiet achievers are intelligent, introverted and industrious, but are regularly overshadowed in the workplace by their more socially confident colleagues. Introverted employees are often told that they do not participate enough. In meetings, as previously mentioned, they tend to be the quiet ones: they seem as though they don’t engage with their team and keep to themselves, especially in large group settings.
However, to say this is because they’re not interested is simply untrue. Most often, they’re usually listening and processing the information before forming ideas. And, isn’t that exactly what management should want them to do? Unfortunately, the answer is likely, “Yes, but…”
“65% of senior corporate executives viewed introversion as a barrier to leadership.” — Harvard Business Review, The Hidden Advantages of Quiet Bosses
Which is a shame. As Cain goes on to say in the interview, “From an employer’s point of view, you know, you really want all your employees operating at their peak level of energy and efficiency and motivation. So understanding that you have many introverts working with you and figuring out how to get the best of their brains, it’s actually a huge managerial challenge.”
Their Silence Isn’t Personal
Introverted employees are known for thinking things through before they speak, enjoying a small, close groups of friends and one-on-one time, needing time alone to recharge and being upset by unexpected changes or last-minute surprises. While it would be incorrect to say that all introverts are shy—many thrive on social interaction, just as extroverts do—they will definitely need some time alone or just with close friends or family after spending time in a big crowd.
For introverts, to be alone with their thoughts can be as restorative as sleeping, and as nourishing as eating.
A quiet employee doesn’t mean a disengaged employee. They might be fully processing new information or discussions silently, and in truth be one of the more engaged members of your team. If there’s a meeting, discussion or anything you want their opinion on, it might be a good idea to wait a couple hours, maybe a day or two, before asking them for their thoughts. Or you could reach out before the meeting so they have time to prepare questions or a response. Again, they need time to process, digest and formulate a response. And when you follow-up, make sure it’s one-on-one, not in a group setting.
PDA? No Way!
Large crowds, unprepared public speeches and being the focal point of a group’s attention can be difficult for introverts. The worst ways a manager can choose to recognize introverts are:
- Making an unexpected awards ceremony in front of a whole office. While extroverts get energy from everyone’s attention, it takes effort for an introvert to look calm and confident. Introverts aren’t necessarily shy or antisocial, but putting an introvert in the spotlight can cause discomfort and lots of stress.
- Creating a wall of fame in the office. Especially with photos, and double-especially when those photos have not been approved by the introverted employees.
6 Ways to Recognize Your Introvert Employees
The main thing to keep in mind is to not make the mistake of thinking that introverts don’t want to be recognized at all just because they don’t enjoy more public forms of employee recognition. While public recognition for their good work won’t be appreciated, everyone still wants to be recognized for their hard work and accomplishments. Introverts just appreciate recognition in different forms. Some of the best practices to encourage and inspire introverts include:
- Personal emails recognizing accomplishments. When an employee does something deserving of recognition, it might seem like an email sent to the entire company would be a great way to let everyone know about their achievement. While the thought is nice, too much attention is an introvert’s worst nightmare. You’re better off sending a personal email to the employee letting them know you appreciate their good work.
- Recognize introverts in front of their immediate team. If you do want to make sure that others are aware of your employee’s achievement, you can recognize them in front of a small group of people that they know well and are familiar with, such as their immediate team. Keep it short and simple, such as a quick “Nice work” at the weekly department meeting.
Utilize your company’s employee recognition platform. Employee recognition apps are perfect for introverts. Because recognition is sent through the platform, it feels more private even if other employees can see it. The employee is able to respond in their own time, without being put on the spot.
Peer-to-peer recognition is an excellent way to ensure that your quiet performers are recognized for the great work they do. It has the added benefits of helping their extroverted colleagues to see how valuable their quiet teammates' contributions are, and providing a perfect opportunity to show appreciation for them.
- Give thoughtful feedback. Many introverts are strong critical thinkers, and appreciate when others demonstrate that they were also paying attention to the details. When you have a moment one-on-one, describe what challenge you saw them overcome and why you admired how they handled it. They’ll really appreciate that you noticed their hard work and took the time to recognize them for it.
- Be a behind-the-scenes advocate. You don’t have to gather a big crowd to speak about an introvert’s contribution to a work project. Talk them up behind their backs; promote their skills and work among other employees.
- Take them out for coffee. An introvert might not enjoy a group lunch or a party celebrating their latest achievement, but taking them out for coffee is a nice way to make a gesture of appreciation that’s more in line with an introvert’s preference for low-key, one-on-one social interactions. Just make sure to schedule the date in advance—most introverts appreciate warning prior to a social engagement.
Introvert employees can make recognition tricky. They’re excellent employees, but managing, recognizing and rewarding them does take a bit of a different approach. By mindful of that, and your recognition efforts will be well received.
Understanding the different personalities in your office will better set your team members and your organization up for success. Discover even more ways to connect with your team in meaningful ways with our ebook, Fostering Human Connection in the Workplace.