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Organizations are facing demand from employees and candidates for individualization in workplace norms and environments. Leaders will need to consider how biases may have impacted organizational norms and identify solutions to establish an employee engagement plan.
COVID-19 has brought about many changes, including what our concept of “normal” is. There are some stark contrasts between what our versions of “normal” were pre-pandemic and what we are seeing and experiencing today. Among these changes is the evolution taking place within the workplace. Previously, “normal” work environments likely included a more homogeneous way of working, with an expectation that most or all should be able to thrive within a singular way of working and type of office environment. Straying from those norms was, at minimum, seen as strange or odd and, at worst, could have been a mark against individuals when considerations were made for hiring, promotions, or raises.
Then came 2020 and many of us shifted our workplace from an office to our own homes. This major disruption in normal allowed many, perhaps for the first time, to consider how they best work, which may not have necessarily been what they’d been used to doing prior to the pandemic. Yes, this disruption came with its own challenges, but it also was a ‘period of enlightenment' for many. Suddenly, people were having thoughts like, “perhaps I can work well remotely after all” or “maybe I don’t need to be in-person to have successful meetings with clients.” For the 30-50% of the population considered to be Introverts, who need alone time to feel their best because social interaction uses up energy, they found themselves in a work environment that favored their personalities.  On the other hand, for Extroverts, who thrive with social interactions and may have previously enjoyed open office environments, in-person brainstorming sessions and those connections with colleagues pre-and post-meeting, moving to working in an all-remote workspace was likely a real struggle.
As offices begin opening their doors again, organizational leaders are discovering that not everyone is ready to go back to the old ways of working. This last year and a half has highlighted the need to re-think “normal” and consider the possibility that there may be more than one way to work. Individual differences have surfaced and individualism is beginning to be recognized as an important factor in employee well-being. Forward-thinking leaders are starting to put more focus and attention on creating environments for employees to thrive based on individual needs - and employees are following suit! Individual differences, preferences, and working styles are becoming a part of the conversation when determining the ideal employee experience. This trend marks a shift away from a one-size-fits-all approach to a more individualized one and it challenges companies to serve their employees in a holistic way.
This is not likely to be a short-term trend. Organizations need to be considering how their existing employee experience structures may be helping or hindering their employees. This means paying particular attention to the impact their structures have on identified individual differences amongst employees. To help show how companies can begin auditing and tailoring their employee experience, we will explore the concept of Extraversion vs. Introversion as an individual difference, though we hope it just adds additional color to all of the possible considerations to address when considering individual needs in the workplace. Our goals are to….
As we think about moving from our old workplace norms and setting the stage for a new normal, we are challenging organizational leaders to consider how they can change the way they approach each part of their employee's engagement within their organization. As part of this challenge, it’s important to address the role that biases play in the workplace and the implications they can have. We all have biases - it's part of how our brain, at its core, helps us categorize, make decisions and attempt to navigate the world. Unfortunately, biases can also lead to judgments and assumptions about others, which can be harmful when applied. Many of us are probably familiar with the biases that lead to discrimination, based on an individual’s gender, race, ability, age, and orientation. But what about biases with regards to personality? Within the US, traits associated with Extroverts (enthusiastic, social, friendly, team-oriented) tend to be perceived more positively than those associated with Introverts (quiet, uncomfortable in groups, reserved). While each personality type has its unique strengths and weaknesses, neither is fundamentally superior, yet in the American workplace and culture at large, Extroversion is often treated as the ideal. Though there are many avenues to address when considering biases, we'll attempt to focus our time on biases around these personality types and how leaders can navigate these often unconscious assumptions at each stage in the employee journey: during recruiting, in-role and career development and growth. Each of these key phases is ripe with opportunity to turn the old way of thinking upside-down and re-consider how the traditional lens may be creating inequities and hindering the success of your employees and organization at large.
Candidates today may find themselves engaged in interviews and hiring processes that typically favor Extroverted candidates over their Introverted counterparts. While placing the majority of the emphasis on interview performance - with potential bias toward those that are perceived as confident, enthusiastic, talkative (classic traits of an Extrovert) - isn’t wrong, organizations are at risk of eliminating a third to a half of the talent pool. Continuing to recruit this way could mean missing out on effective potential team members that would make for a more successful team and organization overall.
Prior to posting the role for hire, we suggest leaders consider assessing their own biases, to help identify how these may be weighing into the job description, who is selected for interviews and maybe even who is ultimately hired. Start by asking a few questions: Who do you think of when you imagine who will be successful in the role? What is it about this imagined person that makes them successful: is it specific skills and knowledge or personality traits? It’s likely that, within that image of the ideal person, there is a tendency to consider one or the other personality traits. If so, try challenging this initial judgment and consider how the opposite of this belief could be just as true. How could someone with the opposite personality trait be just as, if not more, successful in this role? For example, consider how an Introvert may find success in a role that may traditionally be seen as filled by an Extrovert, (and vice-versa). It may certainly be the case that you’ve been selecting for a personality trait, based upon someone previously in the role that was successful, but this doesn’t mean that is the only personality type that could find success here.
When it comes time to begin reviewing resumes, try implementing the “second look rule” that Joe Burridge talks about on a YouTube video posted this past July.  The rule is, before you throw away a resume or hit “reject,” slow down and take a second look. How might this candidate be a great fit for the role after all? This rule is pretty simple and yet is an effective way to combat the possibility of declining a candidate because of affinity bias (a bias towards those similar to you and against those different than you).
In the interviewing phase, we like the following suggestions by Bruce M. Anderson, published on LinkedIn a few years ago, which covers easy-to-implement ways to address some of the personality biases that may be affecting recruiting :
The workplace is changing and people are wanting to know that their individual differences are valued and considered by potential employers. Recruiting and hiring is a key place to begin implementing changes that will make a meaningful difference as we navigate this major shift in workplace norms and priorities for employees.
When it comes to increasing performance and further advancing all personality types in their roles, leaders need to get to know their team members in order to better understand what they need to be successful. This means taking the time to consider all factors, including personality, family situation, gender, etc. This will challenge leaders to take a holistic approach to understanding each person on their team and determine how best they will show up in their role. While Extroverts gravitate towards groups and constant action, and tend to think out loud, Introverts typically prefer quiet spaces to prompt thinking, and they dislike interruptions and big group settings. While Extroverts find their energy by engaging in personal interactions and shared ideas, Introverts are more apt to want time to think before speaking, and would rather build relationships one-on-one. Because of this, considerations need to be made when developing role requirements and effective ways of working for day-to-day interactions. Leaders are urged to shift their mindset and consider how to help adjust the role and the environment to help all personalities find success, rather than assuming only some qualities can or will be successful. Other considerations include:
The following phrase says it all: you are either green and growing or ripe and rotting. Especially in the era of “The Great Resignation,” as it’s being deemed, leaders need to consider how they are contributing to the “growing” or “rotting” of their employees. Those who feel they are not being valued or that they are not in an environment where they can be successful will leave to pursue an organization that will help them continue to grow. Implementing some of the suggestions above and bringing awareness to your innate biases, will help retain employees and deepen your existing employees’ commitment to your organization.
Career development and promotion considerations are other key places to pay attention to unconscious biases. Our biases are based upon our personal experiences and can heavily influence who we believe will have success in higher positions within the organization. For instance, it is often assumed that Extroverted people will excel in leadership roles due to their charismatic, enthusiastic energy and communication style, whereas Introverts, who may be more reserved and not speak up, might be overlooked. One study found that more Extroverted people — those who were more confident, sociable or assertive — had a 25% higher chance of being in a high-earning job.  However, just because someone feels comfortable speaking up, or has a more assertive, expressive personality, doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best person for the job! Consider the implications of promoting an assertive personality into a role that, at its core, entails thoughtful listening to understand customer needs, or putting an Introverted person into a role that demands constant facetime with investors without enough downtime to recoup their energy. Failing to consider how someone of a different personality type could be just as successful in this position, means missing out on finding someone that is truly best for the role and the organization overall.
Biases can also show up in small ways within development discussions, as microaggressions, which can be equally harmful to individuals on your teams. Several self-proclaimed Introverts on our own teams can recall times when they were told to “be more confident”, “act more like an ideal consultant” or to walk around and engage more in casual conversations with other employees. All three of these examples reflect preferences towards Extroverted personalities and were given as feedback and improvement areas during performance conversations. Unfortunately, while this feedback was likely well-intentioned, it reflected a missed opportunity for their managers and leadership to identify and value the key attributes and skill sets that these Introverts brought to the table.
Leaders who want to capitalize on top talent and help successfully move their organizations into this new “norm” in the workplace, need to be able to identify their own biases and recognize it throughout the organization, in order to be able to best implement plans to help each individual succeed. Once there is recognition, then you can begin considering how to set everyone up for success. We suggest starting by taking time to consider who has previously had success in these higher positions. Why were they successful and what was it about the environment and workstyle of your organization that may have contributed to their success? Now, identify someone on your team who may have a very different personality from them. How could they find equal, if not more success, in that same role? What aspects of the role would align with their strengths and how could the environment and workstyle expectations be adjusted to better support this person in this role? Within the workplace, organizations that we expect to wind up with the best retention and top talent in the future are going to be those that are willing to set aside their biases, be open to flexible work situations and not only embrace individual differences amongst employees, but capitalize on them by building developmental plans, based upon individual strengths and preferences. The more leaders can let go of rigidity and embrace flexibility in this space, the better the possible outcomes are for everyone on the team.
What we’re seeing through COVID and the experience of observing our own work styles and preferences is a US culture-wide need to create a more tailored work environment to better accommodate and meet the needs of the individual. Businesses must be able to flex more than typical, meeting people where they are and how they function best, while challenging traditional biases. As organizational leaders begin to plan their path of what return to work will look like for their teams (in-office, hybrid, or telework), decisions will, yet again, impact business and valuable employees. Simultaneously, with the impending “Great Resignation,” businesses that desire to secure new talent and retain high-performers must assess their ability to flex to the individual, while curbing unconscious bias. This is a non-traditional concept but will be more important than ever, as employees and job seekers are in the driver’s seat, with knowledge of how they work best and from where they prefer to work.
Assessing and building in new capabilities based on individual needs will be crucial for securing stable and maximized success of organizations and employees. Assumptions that everyone can (or will) work under the same requirements could have negative impacts on business: we have seen this in organizations already deploying quick, back to pre-pandemic concepts. Leaders must pay attention to a range of personalities, the biases within and provide the compassionate ask and allowance for where an individual thrives. Just as in our return to office environments, some folks are hybrid personalities - and all personalities recharge very differently to avoid burnout. Where do your employees thrive? Now is the time to engage them, asking how and where they work at their best, as any decisions or indecisions may affect hiring, keeping top talent, driving success within in-role performance and advancing career development. Below are some additional questions to consider:
Questions organizations should be asking:
As we wrap up, we’d like to point out that we have intentionally addressed only 2 sides of the personality range (Extrovert and Introvert), though there are many that identify falling somewhere in between these two. What we hope to convey is that, by reviewing employee individual characteristics with unbiased lenses and active listening, organizational leaders can help both employees and workplaces thrive in authenticity and success.
Considering all the aspects of individualism as part of a broader employee engagement plan can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to go it alone. Sia Partners has a team of consultants committed to helping organizations around the world tackle the tough organizational health and effectiveness challenges we all are facing today. Get in touch if your organization is ready to engage and advance positioning within today’s ever-changing environment.