Workforce.com

Introverts Are People Too

March 1, 2013

Ed Frauenheim is on assignment.

In the December issue of The Atlantic there's an article called "Perks and Recreation" that deals with how companies have begun to adopt certain employee engagement tactics from huge Internet start-ups like Google, YouTube and Facebook.

What the article makes note of is that all these monster companies have corporate cultures designed with their extroverted employees in mind. Such companies have perks like giant slides, tree-house meeting rooms, themed days (e.g. Nautical Day) and new-age office spaces that seek to engender spontaneous collaboration. They do it, according to the article, because there's the sense that extroverts produce the best business results.

I look at it as this weird bread and circuses aspect of new corporate culture—an implicit workforce demand to be anesthetized against the "pain" of an eight-hour workday. It's also a little bit whiny and self-entitled, and it's wholly a product of my generation—the millennials.

I haven't been to any of these places, but the way they're portrayed in this Atlantic article, and from Workforce's recent article that features Red Frog Events, another company with an unorthodox workplace, I cringe at the thought of working in one of those places, or as I think of them: Professional Neverlands. I understand these fun perks are supposed to reduce turnover and increase productivity, among other things. But I feel like this tactic only works for people who respond positively to this sort of stimulation, and in turn it could alienate a company's introverted employees.

Sure, a more liberal work environment would probably allow for somebody like me, an introvert, to take a walk by myself whenever I wanted to have a break. But the fact remains, I would ultimately return to an environment I don't prefer to work in—an environment that essentially recreates the atmosphere of a middle school classroom where the quiet kids are the weirdos.

In writing this, I'm not expressing an aversion to interaction with other human beings, or that I think introverts are better than extroverts. I like being around people, and some of my best friends are archetypal extroverts. But that's my social life.

When I'm working, concentrating on a task, I prefer to work quietly and undisturbed. In fact, one of the things I liked most about our previous office space was the environment, which was designed for spontaneous collaboration with an open floor plan and short cubicle walls. But I was also able to work alone, in quiet, whenever I wanted.

The author of "Perks and Recreation" mentions a book by Susan Cain titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. Our Senior Writer Rita Pyrillis showed me a blog post about Quiet with this great video that sums up the book through animation. This quote was pulled from the book and highlighted in the blog post:

"Our most important institutions, our schools and our workplaces, they are designed mostly for extroverts and for extroverts' need for lots of stimulation. And also we have this belief system right now that I call the new groupthink, which holds that all creativity and all productivity comes from a very oddly gregarious place. […] There's zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas."

The blog points out an interesting section of the book about Apple Inc. Everybody knows Apple because of Steve Jobs, but most people don't know the first product that initially led to the launch of the company was developed by Steve Wozniak: a self-proclaimed introvert.

Essentially, Jobs, while a great inventor in his own right, was Apple's hype-man. Wozniak designed the first product and approached Jobs to help him sell it. What's important about this example is that Apple's success isn't owed simply to an extrovert, nor to an introvert, but to a team consisting of both. What I've gleaned from the Atlantic article is that sacrificing the needs of the introvert for the sake of indulging the needs of the extrovert could ultimately be damaging to any business.

Utilizing the skills of both kinds of personalities is something I think most companies view as necessary, or at least I hope they do, as they explore Internet start-ups for ways to improve employee engagement and thereby foster a corporate culture that yields better business results. Giant slides, tree houses and nautical themed days are fine for the extroverts; just don't forget to have stuff for the quiet kids too.

Max Mihelich is Workforce's editorial intern. Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @workforcemax. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.