As HR managers, you do your best to support people.
You work hard to create an environment of high morale, low turnover, ever-improving engagement and productivity.
Yet no matter how much you improve, you still have people leaving – great talent is seeking employment elsewhere, employees are displaying lower performance than they’re capable of and you don’t know why.
For all of your hard work and dedication, you must have overlooked something.
Otherwise, why is productivity and retention still an issue? Why are people not recommending that their organizational staff work at your company? Why are team members still disengaged?
With all of these issues and no clear cause, blame is spread to many different sources. Senior HR leaders often blame their managers, because they feel they’re doing everything they can to be a support.
Managers and CEO’s blame HR selection processes if employees leave in a short amount of time and they blame poor management training if employees leave in a longer amount of time.
It seems like the problem grows in complexity, all the while the real issue is staring you right in the face.
It’s the same inclusion problem all over again: each time it’s a surprise, yet each time it’s fixed, profitability or productivity soars.
It’s not culture, gender or religion this time.
While we still have a way to go in these areas, the most expensive, yet absolutely overlooked inclusion epidemic is the introverts: this “small” ALMOST 50% of your workforce feels underappreciated and underestimated.
And it’s not your fault!
You’ve been focused on these other really important things and it’s easy to assume that your introverts don’t want to be promoted or utilized in so-called extroverted arenas, like leadership, sales, etc.
But this simply isn’t true. Introverts and the talents they bring to the table are going completely underutilized and unnoticed in huge amounts. So much so that it’s one of the most insidious issues facing our organizations today.
So, what’s to be done?
And what do you need to know about this group to ensure you retain your best staff and create an environment where creativity thrives, morale expands and productivity skyrockets?
Simple: you just need to know how to avoid these three traps.
Have you ever been completely surprised by the resignation of a certain staff member – the one that you thought was totally happy and them leaving blew you off your chair?
Were they the kind of quiet achiever that you appreciated from afar or just accepted their hard work as part of who they were?
When they left, did you tell yourself they must have gone to a better job or perhaps a job that paid them more?
It might surprise you that while research says companies think their staff leave because they want more money, employees say they’re more likely to leave when they feel unappreciated and undervalued.
And in the case of inclusion with cultural, religious or gender issues, people yelled and screamed about their unhappiness (or I guess the extroverted members of those groups did).
But the trouble with people that don’t want attention is that they don’t tend to bring awareness to it when they’re upset, so you get hit with an unexpected blow.
Like when you receive that email or text message asking for a meeting with you out of nowhere or they simply walk into your office to tell you they’ve taken another job.
So, you have to ask yourself: how could you have overlooked this person and not appreciated them in the way they needed that caused this unexpected situation to have occurred? And how many other situations have occurred that you haven’t noticed or haven’t associated with a similar problem?
Let me give you a cautionary story of a person we’ll call Michelle.
When I first started working with Michelle, she was a medical assistant for a large healthcare organization. Michelle went above and beyond in her role: arriving early, staying late, stocking rooms during her breaks so more patients could be seen, advocating for clients’ needs to insurance companies, regularly organizing the office space to ensure maximum efficiency, and quickly scheduling specialist appointments for patients.
Being an introvert allowed Michelle to complete more work with less need for socializing, stay focused for longer periods of time and notice crucial details that others missed. These behaviors directly translated to higher patient satisfaction, increased return revenue, less wasted time and more productive workdays.
She didn’t realize the ways in which she was an absolute asset to the company and also just how beaten down and demotivated she had become – which is why she was considering leaving.
But after just a few sessions and highlighting all the extra effort Michelle was putting into her work, she began to value herself and her skills much more.
This translated into Michelle advocating for herself. She was more vocal about the ideas that she normally would have simply kept to herself on how to be more productive, which led to more efficient procedures, improving employee engagement and increasing patient satisfaction.
But Michelle’s company wasn’t open to her ideas and didn’t recognize the ways in which she went above and beyond. They continued to operate in the same way, allowing inefficient systems to create more work, less focus and more patient complaints.
Despite her best efforts, Michelle continued to feel unnoticed, unappreciated, undervalued and even judged in a negative light because she didn’t always participate in office parties, after work get-togethers or eat lunch in the breakroom.
After months of feeling overlooked, Michelle quit unexpectedly.
Now, I’m not saying that if you don’t do this, they’ll leave. However, I am saying that when you’re employed by a forward-thinking company, more often than not these surprise losses can be avoided. And not necessarily by promoting these people or giving them more money, but by learning how to embrace their true value and cashing in on it.
Given that introverts make up to 1/2 of your workforce and that stories like Michelle’s are commonplace among introverted staff, it’s certain that this lack of introvert inclusion is to blame for a huge amount of the retention, disengagement and productivity issues at your company.
And at a 30-50% replacement cost for entry-level employees’ salary and up to a 213% replacement cost for executive-level positions, the numbers are staggering and the evidence is clear that unhappy introverts are costing organizations serious cash.
The U.S. economy takes a hit of $350 billion per year in lost productivity because of disengaged employees.
Could this be the biggest uncovered cause of disengagement and therefore the most expensive (yet often totally unidentified) issue facing organizations today?
Imagine if I was working with Michelle individually and provided her with strategies on how to stand out and value her strengths and she went and applied them, yet her organization still wouldn’t listen. I would have to advise her to seek employment elsewhere.
That’s why I love working with companies that know this is important because I can help the managers and staff be open to these ideas. Unfortunately, in our story of Michelle, the management team ignored her and typecast her as a person who “gets results”, but boxed her out of leadership.
So, she went and got a new job, only to be forced to relive this same issue over again for another employer. But this time, Michelle knew what strategies to implement for success and this organization had been trained to embrace their introverts, so all of her innovative ideas on creating efficient systems and increasing customer satisfaction were embraced and implemented – and profits and productivity soared.
By not recognizing the way in which introverts’ dissatisfaction is directly linked to significant profit and productivity losses, you unknowingly perpetuate these issues even further.
But, by being able to identify the introverts in your company, you can start to ward off these problems before they even start.
Do you ever wonder why over time you’re not progressing as fast as you used to? Your team seems to be less productive, less focused and less engaged, but you’re not sure why.
If you can relate to any of these scenarios (or somewhere in between), you’ve felt the punch of introvert neglect. Each of these scenarios reflects a mismanagement and misunderstanding of what it means to lead, encourage and motivate introverts.
But with the right perspective shift and action-packed agenda, you can not only retain more introverts, but you can also create a more productive and motivated work atmosphere for all.
Let’s consider an all-too-common story from a person we’ll call Holly. When I first met Holly, who held an HR position in a multi-million dollar manufacturing company, I explained the value of embracing introverted staff and how costly it could be for an organization to ignore, overlook or undervalue up to 1/2 of their team members.
When I share this with HR managers in organizations, I’m often surprised at how many high-level professionals are introverts themselves and how they express that they’re experiencing the same problems day in and day out that I describe are occurring for their introverted staff.
For example, Holly is smart, creative, analytical, insightful and driven. She’s the one you never have to worry about socializing too much or not doing enough work. In fact, she regularly goes above and beyond, which becomes obvious in her overly prepared presentations and spot-on calculations.
Due to Holly’s empathetic and caring nature, she makes it a point to check in with employees and smooth over possible conflicts, creating a more productive and engaging work environment. As an introvert herself, Holly excels at helping the introverts at her organization feel understood, cared for and appreciated.
Despite all of this, Holly’s managers blame her for staff leaving, but it’s really because the managers aren’t treating their introverts right. And with a team of managers that aren’t trained to identify and effectively engage introverts, HR can only do so much. And if HR isn’t appreciated, they’ll leave.
How long do you think Holly will be willing to put up with the stress that comes from employees who feel overlooked and rejected and from managers who are inflexible and critical? And what will happen to the introverted team members who are only staying because of Holly’s understanding and compassion if she leaves?
This would be a very expensive problem indeed.
Because either the introverted staff will follow Holly’s example and leave; or, they’ll start “phoning it in” because they know they’ll never be appreciated or given the opportunity to do what they know they were put on this earth to do.
Conversely, if Holly stayed and felt understood and empowered by her organization, she could train managers on how to spot the introverts and effectively lead and engage them. Then, what if the managers gave introvert inclusion trainings and allowed the people to speak up in a safe forum?
Imagine the transformation that would occur if people like Holly were given the strategies to assert themselves in this community. Productivity, performance and profitability would soar, along with unstoppable momentum and explosive growth!
With this story in mind, how many “Hollys” are at your work? How many top-performing introverts are quietly planning their exit strategy, shirking their responsibilities, procrastinating or working at half-effectiveness, all the while seeming to behave as usual? Or, perhaps you see yourself in Holly, knowing that you aren’t valued like you should be. How much more loss are we willing to suffer before we take this inclusion issue seriously?
As Michael C. Bush, CEO of Great Place to Work so clearly articulated, “Our research shows that organizations that are Great Places to Work For All race ahead of rivals by maximizing everyone’s potential. Introverts are part of the “For All,” and many organizations haven’t fully tapped their potential”.
Introverts are being passed over, underutilized and neglected, which ultimately results in them leaving the company for more desirable opportunities. This epidemic leads to abandoned R&D projects, lower workplace morale, higher rates of attrition and greatly affects the company’s bottom line. And with the current talent shortage, can you really afford to lose even more valuable employees?
With the right leadership and management style, introverts’ potential would bloom, companies would stay on the cutting edge of innovation and productivity would soar to new heights. Not only because introverts would be properly utilized, but also because an introvert-inclusive workplace would benefit the organization as a whole. Which brings me to my last point…
“What are your thoughts?” Conundrum
Do you know what one of the number one stresses in corporate America is right now? Group meetings (in-person and virtual). What’s the issue? Well, only about half of the staff (i.e., the extroverts) participate in the meeting and the other half (i.e., the introverts) don’t talk. Here’s what happens.
You prepare diligently for a meeting and want everyone’s feedback. You notice there are always some people you never hear from without calling on directly. Let’s call one of these quiet types “Sarah”.
So, you ask Sarah what her opinion is, but she looks ticked off about the fact that she was asked so she either doesn’t answer or says she doesn’t have an opinion or gives a quick, off-handed response. After the meeting, a decision is made about a big project or direction for the company.
Then Sarah comes up to you a few days later and says, “Oh, I’m so glad I caught you. I was thinking about the question you asked me. I have this earth-shattering idea. It’s so much better than what we came up with in the meeting!”
But you’ve already taken action, spoken to your senior leaders, got budget approval and signed the contract. But now you know you’ve made a terrible decision and Sarah told you three days too late. Sound familiar?
I’ve seen this happen again and again within organizations.
And I just say, “Well, why didn’t you tell them what you were going to ask a day before the meeting? Then they would have thought about their ideas and came into it ready to share”.
The response I often receive is, “Oh wow, it was that simple?”. This issue isn’t difficult to solve – but it has big consequences if you don’t.
Consider if the deal you made from the meeting was going to make your company $6 million, but Sarah’s idea a few days later could have made $9 million. Now imagine if you would’ve just sent an email to preface the question the day before the meeting so the introverts would have had time to think about their response.
Of course, it’s not always natural for extroverted leaders to provide questions before the meeting, because they assume that large group discussions are the best way to hear everyone’s ideas. Although this isn’t meant to disenfranchise anyone, it absolutely does.
Managers need to make sure that they make it easy for their staff to contribute and don’t just allow one pathway (i.e., group meetings) to make sure staff’s voices are heard. And this is just one example of how the subconscious bias against introverts is costing organizations millions.
Learning how to pre-plan and how to embrace introverted team members so you get all the creative ideas was as simple as sending one quick email 24 hours before the meeting – which would’ve made a $3 million-dollar difference.
Plus, Sarah now quits because she was embarrassed by you asking her a question during the meeting and feeling like you were upset with her when she brought it up a few days later.
Sarah’s thinking, “Why doesn’t anyone appreciate me here? Forget this! I’m going to work for someone else.”
So, now you’ve lost the person that was the hardest worker in your organization and you have to hire two people just to replace her. Now, recruitment company costs are involved, you’re stressed out because you have to train these new people (plus one of them is an introvert so they seem like they don’t even like you).
Plus, Sarah took a whole bunch of customers with her because she had built an amazing network because of her diligent and compassionate customer support…
Bottom line: this is about a whole lot more than just making the introverts in your organization “feel good”.
With every diversity frontier – gender, culture, religion – there’s an increase in creativity, productivity, engagement and profitability. While most people haven’t viewed introverts as being a part of the diversity issue, it absolutely is.
When the whole system is set up on the basis that extroversion is the standard and staff are expected to act in stereotypical “extroverted” ways (i.e., being social, energetic, talkative, quick-witted, etc.) and you’re often viewed as wrong, bad, antisocial, ineffective or incapable if you don’t – that’s discriminatory.
Companies have to become aware of the ways in which they’ve been unconsciously stereotyping and overlooking an entire group of their workforce. It’s just as bad in its consequences and it has the same widespread and negative effect as past diversity issues. And it needs immediate and swift attention!
Introvert-inclusion is essential to company success!
As with any diversity issue, awareness is the first step toward change. For many years, introverts have been ignored, overlooked and underutilized. But the consequences of this injustice have finally risen to the surface so that it can no longer be ignored.
The impact of not addressing this issue can be clearly seen in the exponential costs to companies and the dissatisfaction of millions of introverts.
If you or your company have been struggling to effectively address retention and productivity issues, it’s time to consider if failing to properly engage the introverts in your company is the missing piece of the puzzle.
As The Pathfinder, I can help. I work with HR managers to skyrocket retention and productivity by uncovering their underutilization or even neglect of introverted team members, as well as mapping out their roadmap to success.
Did you find this article helpful? If so, would you mind sharing it with a friend? I appreciate your support in embracing introverts and creating more successful and inclusive workplaces! As always, please feel free to leave me a comment or question below and I’d be happy to connect with you!
*Names and details may be changed to protect the confidentiality of clients