Introversion 2.0: Why we need to reshape the way we work
9 minute read
January 2 is World Introvert Day—a chance to celebrate those people who make up more than half the global population. Across the world, 57% of people have a preference for introversion.
As many businesses and employees transition back to the workplace after forced remote working, it’s obvious that things won’t be the same as they were before.
Working practices have changed. Priorities have changed.
People have changed.
But before we look at what the return to the workplace means for people who prefer Introversion, here’s what we know about the broader transition back to work:
No-one likes being in the office all day every day
Well, almost no-one. Research by Gallup found that 9 out of 10 employees want to maintain remote work in some degree. The amount of time people want to work in or out of the office is also likely to depend on job role, gender, and personality type.
Productivity did not fall with remote working
People can and did get their jobs done at home. Not only that but 54% of respondents said they were more productive according to a Work After Lockdown survey by the University of Southampton in the UK. This could be especially true for Introverts (which we’ll look at later).
- Leaders are out of touch
Not necessarily all leaders, but a Microsoft survey reports that 61% of leaders say they are ‘thriving’ in the post-lockdown world. But only 38% of those without decision-making authority say they’re ‘thriving’.
Record numbers of people are resigning
The Great Resignation is happening. Four million people left their jobs in US in April 2021 and a UK survey by Personio showed that 38% of workers plan to leave jobs or change careers in the near future. Employers’ treatment of workers in the pandemic—including their return-to-work policy—is surely a factor.
Now, let’s focus on people with a Introversion. But first, let’s recap what it means.
What is Introversion?
“The words Extraversion and Introversion get a lot of play on social media and, in many cases, these words are defined incorrectly or misunderstood,” says Michael Segovia, Master MBTI® Practitioner and Senior Consultant with The Myers-Briggs Company.
“On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, Extraversion and Introversion are defined in terms of how we like or prefer to direct and receive energy. They’re not necessarily about sociability or even social confidence. We’re not talking about how shy you are. In fact, I know people who prefer Introversion who are not the least bit shy.”
- People who prefer Extraversion tend to act before thinking, act quickly, talk things through, be expressive, gain energy from interaction, and have a breadth of interests.
- People who prefer Introversion tend to think before acting, spend time in reflection, think things through, be contained, gain energy from concentration, and have a depth of interests
“Also, I’m talking about having a preference for Extraversion or Introversion,” adds Michael, “and not just being an Extravert or Introvert. When we think about having a preference, we recognize that all of us have characteristics of both and need to use both. We just typically prefer one side over the other.”
A preference for the outer world or the inner world shows where a person likes to spend more time and where they get energized. It’s part of what makes that person who they are. And this brings us onto authenticity and personality.
If people can’t be their true selves at work—if they’re unable to be authentic―then they’ll be less likely to flourish or perform well.
And the traditional workplace set-up is often a barrier to people’s ability to be authentic.
Dr Rachel Cubas-Wilkinson, Principal Consultant at The Myers-Briggs Company and co-creator of Inclusive Leadership: Harnessing Diversity of Thought, demonstrated this with a personal anecdote. It’s about the first job she got as a consultant.
“I have a preference for Introversion and the first month I started my job, the entire floor was demolished. All the walls came down and everyone was assigned a cubicle, a chair and three lockable file drawers. And the leader was so excited. He stood on the middle of the floor and said, ‘This is going to drive collaboration, this is going to drive people working together.’
“The reality was quite different. What ended up happening was that people started bringing headphones to work and finding ways to build privacy.
“I was starting out as a consultant and I was assigned the cubicle across from the break room,” Rachel explains. “And one day, rather than being productive, I sat and counted the number of times I was interrupted and I lifted my head to look up when someone entered the break room. Then I had a conversation with my supervisor and said, ‘You know what? As someone who has a preference for Introversion, I really like quiet work environments. If you want the best from me, you’re going to need to let me work from home if this is the workplace reality.’
“I told [my supervisor] that in a single day, I had become distracted to look up and see what was clearly in front of me 532 times.”
The frequency might be extreme, but this kind of distraction won’t be uncommon.
“It’s an example,” she adds, “of a leader having predispositions or bias. If they love being able to go around and talk to people, they might think everyone else thrives that way too. This is why creating inclusive workplaces for different personality types can be difficult. Inadvertently, those susceptibilities exclude others.”
Brain wiring and solo recharge time
Distraction isn’t an issue for just some employees. Everyone gets disrupted by distraction. The point is that normalized office behaviors are distractions for people who prefer Introversion, who respond differently to chemical releases from the brain than those who prefer Extraversion. It’s how their brains are wired. Knowing this helps us understand everyone’s needs better.
People with Introversion preferences need solo recharge time. It’s not a luxury or a ‘nice to have’. It’s what helps them function properly, be in balance, and be their authentic selves.
It’s also pretty much impossible to find solo recharge time in the open-plan, always-on workplace which values employee visibility.
Working from home, though, two things happen.
First, those with Introversion preferences can get their recharge time more readily. There isn’t a workplace ‘office culture’ to deal with.
Second, there may be less need to recharge anyway because there are fewer distractions to begin with.
Introversion, remote working, and the COVID-19 crisis
In The COVID-19 Crisis: Personality and Perception (2020), The Myers-Briggs Company found some significant differences in perceptions of COVID-19 between different type preferences. It’s useful information for any return-to-work plan.
Here are the key findings:
Feelings about the crisis
People preferring Introversion were more likely to use words like anxiety, concern, worry, or fear, and words like cautious and careful, than those preferring Extraversion. This aligns with other research which shows a link between Introversion and COVID-related anxiety (Nikčević, Marino, Kolubinski, Leach, & Spada, 2020). People with an Extraversion preference were more likely to use words around being restricted, confined, and constrained.
Appreciating working from home
Those with Introversion preferences were more likely to enjoy working from home, to appreciate the peace and quiet, and to agree that working from home had given them the space and time to reflect, than those with Extraversion preferences. They were less concerned with having people around them.
Not only were they more likely to agree with the idea that they enjoy working from home, but they were more likely to score higher on average, too—along with, to some extent, those who prefer Thinking. INTP, ISTJ, and INTJ types scored the highest. (ENTJ types also agreed, on average, with the statement they enjoy working from home).
The MBTI types least likely to enjoy working from home were ESTJ, ESFJ, and ENFJ types.
There was a very clear difference on people’s responses to ‘I miss having people around me.’ All eight Extraversion-preferring types were more likely to agree with the statement than every Introversion-preferring type. Even the lowest scoring Extraversion type, ENTJ, had a higher average score than the highest Introversion type (ISFJ).
With Introversion types, there was a secondary Thinking–Feeling effect. The types least likely to miss having people around were INTP and ISTJ.
Life is too quiet working from home
This scale also showed an Extraversion–Introversion difference. ESTJ, ESFJ, and ENFJ were most likely to agree that ‘life is too quiet working from home’. INTJ, INFJ, ISTJ, and INTP were least likely to agree that ‘life is too quiet working from home’.
Overall, there was a tendency for those with I, N, and T preferences to be more positive about working from home, and for those with E, S, and F preferences to be less positive.
As remote workers, those preferring Extraversion did in general agree that they enjoyed working from home. But those with Introversion preferences agreed significantly more emphatically with all these statements. It’s possible that Extraversion types had adapted less successfully to remote work.
Given all the above data and factors, how do we shape the workplace of the future?
The way forward
People preferring Introversion have more challenges in open-plan offices than those preferring Extraversion. The data supports this.
The data also tells us that remote working is generally better for them, too. Which means, in performance and well-being terms, the office—as it was—isn’t the most fruitful place for those who prefer Introversion to work.
Turn that around. Use our tips for managers and employees to reshape the workplace model.
And what do you do now?
If you haven’t seen Professor Nicholas Bloom’s Tedx Stanford talk from 2017, take a look. He talks about a working-from-home experiment conducted with travel agency CTrip in China. CTrip commissioned some people to work from home while others stayed in the office. This is what they found:
- Productivity went up 13%
- Quit rates dropped by 50%
- Performance improved by 24%
The experiment was so successful that CTrip rolled it out to whole company, giving people the choice as to where they worked—home or office. And those who were distracted by being at home came back to the office, suggesting a ‘self-regulation’ effect. Those who were more productive at home continued to work there.
Whether it was mostly Introversion-preferring types who chose to work from home isn’t covered. But, given our own research, you might expect this to be the case.
The crucial point is to give people the choice and keep it open. Let people try. Trust workers to gravitate to where they feel and work best.
Why not use the data and our tips to try different things post-pandemic? People who prefer Introversion need to be heard, no matter how quiet they might be.
It’s time to reshape the workplace. Reset the way we work. Say hello to Introversion 2.0.Want more?
Watch the Unleashing the power of Introversion in your team webinar.
Learn how to use personality assessments in your organization here.
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