Three tips for designing a thoughtful experience for your introverted employees
Grace Burton, Research Lead31.10.17
Another string to your employer value proposition: how to enable your employees to work in a way that reflects their personality.
As those of you who follow the Benefex blog will likely be aware, we believe that personalisation is key to delivering an outstanding employee experience. Speaking to your employees in a way which is relevant, and allowing them to make decisions about what’s best for them, for example when selecting their flexible benefits, goes a long way to enabling your employees to find a sense of belonging at work.
With 46% of HR directors saying that retention is their biggest challenge, and replacing an employee now costing 1/3 of their annual salary on average, keeping talented employees happy is crucial. The best way to do this? Pay attention to the experience they have during their time at work; everyone has an employee experience, even if it’s not been deliberately designed. The prospect of overhauling every aspect of your proposition is likely to be overwhelming, but it needn’t be. By breaking your experience down and taking each interaction in turn, it’s possible to make meaningful interventions that benefit both employees and the organisation.
There’s so much advice out there for HR leaders about how to accommodate all sorts of different workers in their organisations, from parents, to remote workers, to (dare I say it) millennials, but the key to showing any type of employee that you trust them is to give them as much control as possible over their own experience.
That might mean supporting someone who’s caring for a relative to test out different working patterns until they find one that’s right for them, or allocating a development budget for each individual to spend as they see fit. It can also include allowing employees to work in a way that’s best suited to their personality.
The extrovert ideal
Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking has written about the ‘Extrovert Ideal’: the idea that extraversion is extolled as a cultural preference, and that this manifests in all sorts of places; from school to the workplace. With introverts making up anywhere from a third to half of the population, it’s likely that by failing to take this into consideration, we are missing an opportunity to get the best out of a huge section of our employees.
Many of us may not think of ourselves as either introverted or extroverted – I’d never given it any consideration until a copy of Quiet landed on my desk last year – and the label isn’t necessarily that important; it’s just a way explaining our response to stimulation, particularly social stimulation. Extroverts are at their happiest and most creative in situations with high levels of stimulation whilst introverts are the opposite, finding they thrive in solitude.
The key to enabling employees to thrive is to build an environment that permits them to personalise the way they work; it’s absolutely not about ascribing personality types and making decisions for them. Nor is this about designing for the exception; anyone who’s ever been involved in creating a product or process while capturing every eventuality will understand this usually ends in a degraded experience for the end user. This is simply about looking at your employee experience from a different perspective and considering how small changes can have a huge impact on your people.
1. Think about your work spaces
For those with an office job, the chances are you work in an open plan office made up of pods of desks and that you sit with the same or similar people every day. This is great for extroverts as the opportunity to chat and collaborate is omnipresent, but that same chat can have the inverse effect on their introverted colleagues; research has found that 31% of full-time employees say they have to work away from their primary location to accomplish their tasks, and an even more concerning 79% report finding it difficult to concentrate at work because of their environment.
Giving your employees the option to work as flexibly as their role allows - not just in terms of working hours but location too - means that those who flourish in a social environment can do so, whilst others who find their flow in peaceful places can also perform at their best. If this is considered when designing your office (or even just re-arranging the furniture), you will likely find that many of your employees are grateful for the inclusion of quiet places to focus alone. Anyone who has visited the Benefex office will know that it’s not uncommon to find people working from the peace of our kitchen booths, away from the excitement of our main office areas.
2. Don’t stereotype success
If you rely on stereotypes, you’d likely assume that introverts are shy, anti-social, and unlikely to perform well in leadership roles; a 2006 study found that two out of three senior executives viewed introversion as a barrier to leadership. The research tells a very different story; several studies have found that introverted subjects were better at listening to colleagues and more receptive to suggestions, resulting in continued effort from the teams they were leading. These studies concluded that neither extroverts nor introverts were more successful as leaders, but that their distinct communication styles complemented different group dynamics.
Challenge your own pre-conceptions, encourage communication styles that diverge from the ‘extrovert ideal’ and you may find that more of your employees feel able to develop a career in your organisation.
3. Encourage time to rest and renew
It’s well understood that time away from work and adequate sleep is vital for everyone. But what about time for renewal within the working day?
Encouraging your team to leave space between meetings, take lunch breaks away from their workspace, or just withdraw for a quiet moment as needed can create a sense of psychological safety for those employees who do find that social environments can be a drain on their energy. For those in customer-facing roles, being supported to take a few minutes off the phone or away from the shop floor could go a long way to enable your introverted employees get the most from their time at work. There’s even evidence to suggest that downtime during the day helps our cognitive function, similar to the restorative processes that occur when we sleep.
Here at Benefex, we work to the principle that nobody goes to work to do a bad job or to be actively disengaged. What’s clear is that so many opportunities to deliver an incredible employee experience are missed because these interactions have happened by accident instead of being deliberately designed, and it’s a culmination of numerous missed opportunities that can result in employees becoming disengaged.
Thinking about your employees in terms of introversion and extroversion is just one lens to view their experience through. What’s crucial to any intervention or tweak you make to your proposition is that it empowers employees to make their own choices wherever possible; this is the key to designing experiences that leave your employees happy, productive and ultimately, finding a sense of belonging in your organisation.