How Leaders Can Support Introverts in the Workplace

By Dr. Bill Howatt and Andrew Harkness

“At least one third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, who innovate and create but dislike self promotion, who favour working on their own over working in teams.”- Susan Cain, Quiet

Did you know that introverts make up 30% to 50% of the workforce?[1]

Despite this, most workplace structures - constant collaboration, team meetings, planning, and communication methods - are biased toward extroverts. One study found that 96% of managers are extroverts, and 65% of senior leaders believe being an introvert is a liability.

Working remotely can be particularly challenging for introverts

The pandemic has challenged most people, regardless of personality type. While it might seem that introverts would weather this storm better than their extroverted counterparts, that’s not necessarily the case.

Leaders are relying heavily on video conferencing and virtual meetings to make sure work progresses and interpersonal relationshships don’t suffer. For extroverts who recharge by connecting with others, this may be tolerable and even enjoyable. However, for introverted employees the need to be constantly “on” and on camera may be harder than working in an office.

In her book The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking[2], Susan Cain explains that for an introvert to act like an extrovert is stressful and draining mentally and physically. She goes on to say that introverts are highly creative but are much more sensitive to stimuli than extroverts.

And, though they like quiet, many introverts still crave social connection. However, extending themselves to forge and strengthen these connections virtually can be very challenging.  If challenged to work remotely all the time, they can experience loneliness[3], which can lead to mental health issues and poor coping behaviours.

Related resources:

However, leaders who understand the needs of introverted employees can help them thrive in the workplace.

Coaching tips for supporting introverted members on your team

Extroverted leaders managing introverts should be cognisant of blind spots and biases. It’s easy to make the assumption that if you aren’t hearing from a team member, that no news is good news. However, introverts are typically quieter, don’t show a lot of emotion, and are more reserved about speaking up.

Be aware and build understanding

  • Encourage employees to self-evaluate in aid of understanding themselves and their peers better using the Introvert versus Extrovert Quick Screen.
  • If you’re unsure about their working style and preferences, talk to employees. Ask them if they consider themselves to be more introverted or extroverted.

Honour employee differences and preferences

  • Consider whether the frequency, format and length of meetings is suited to everyone. And, when possible, hold individual meetings for those who feel more comfortable connecting one-on-one.
  • Introverts often prefer to work alone, rather than in groups. Try to make room for this to happen when appropriate and reasonable.
  • Allow employees to choose how they respond to requests. Introverts may prefer to respond in writing. Or, they may choose to connect in person once they’ve collected their thoughts.
  • Make sure all employees, including those who are more introverted, are able to voice concerns and share ideas in meetings. If appropriate ask introverted employees to speak first to make sure they are heard.
  • Allow time for introverted employees to observe and learn before immersing them in new situations.

Develop opportunities for social connection

  • Some introverts may benefit from having access to social connections technology like Hugr Authentic Connections that can help them build and maintain their social support networks.
  • Engage employees in the process of developing a social connections strategy that works in a virtual work environment. See more ideas for developing a social connection strategy here.

Building workplace structures, policies and procedures to suit all personality types promotes inclusiveness and psychological safety in the workplace. When introverted employees feel included and socially connected they are more likely to be resilient and engaged and less likely to feel isolated and lonely.

Pilot Opportunity

Hugr Authentic Connections, WSPS and HowattHR will be launching a study to pilot this new employee software within the WSPS client base in November. If you’re interested, please contact Krista Schmid at krista.schmid@wsps.ca as space is limited.

It’s Not Too Late to Participate!

In February 2020, HowattHR, in partnership with The Globe and Mail, launched the Perceived Isolation – Loneliness Effect survey[4], a study to explore the impact of perceived isolation, isolation, loneliness and resiliency on employee productivity in the workplace. The survey is still open to participants. A final report will be released in the fall of 2020. By completing the survey, employers and employees can capture a baseline in aid of understanding the strength of employees’ social connections at work and home. Go directly to the survey, or read the Globe and Mail kickoff article,  “Understanding the difference between isolation and loneliness at work.[5]


1 https://www.steelcase.com/research/articles/topics/privacy/quiet-ones/
2 https://www.amazon.ca/Quiet-Power-Introverts-World-Talking/dp/0307352153
3 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/16/smarter-living/coronavirus-introverts-lonely.html
4 https://www.howatthronline.com/loneliness/
5 https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/careers/workplace-award/article-understanding-the-differences-between-isolation-and-loneliness-at-work/


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