You’re a human resources professional? Then you must be a people person!
HR has historically had a reputation for extroversion—and that expectation is only heightened when you start talking about individuals in the people ops department. Whether they’re called, ‘directors of employee experience,’ ‘chief people officers,’ or ‘talent coordinators,’ the mandate of these positions and others like them is to build a connected and engaged team.
Presumably, that would mean spending quite a bit of time with people—an extrovert’s dream job. These are folks energized by being around others, after all. But as it turns out, a people and culture pro can like people and still find them tiring to be around. You can build an engaged team, even if engaging with others tires you out. You can be an introvert and a people person!
Case studies of introverted HR leaders
Exhibit A: Laszlo Bock
Laszlo Bock is the one who wrote Work Rules!, one of the definitive guides for modern people pros. This is the man who, as the head of People Ops at Google, took the company from 6,000 employees to 60,000 and made sure the culture scaled, too. He’s also the person who designed an employer brand worthy of some 100-plus awards naming Google one of the world’s best places to work. And the guy who did all that? He’s an introvert. “I need time to myself or with close friends or family to recharge,” Bock told Lifehacker last year.
Exhibit B: Pat Wadors
Wadors, known for her work as the former Senior VP of Talent at Linkedin, is a self-proclaimed introvert and loves every minute of it. “I think HR is a cultural advocate,” she explained in a Future of Work podcast. “I get to help influence and guide an amazing workplace and see the fruits of that labour through employee engagement and through our talent pipeline and really cool people walking through the hallway.”
She sounds like a people person—just what you’d expect from an HR professional. But while Wadors gets excited about people, they also drain her. Like Bock and other introverts, she needs time alone to get her energy back up. “It’s unusual,” Wadors admits of being an introvert in a people ops position. “It was confusing earlier in my career. People didn’t understand me.”
Introverts are casualties of the workplace revolution
In fact, people often misunderstand introverts, regardless of what department they’re in. Not at ease with small talk and strangers, they don’t often make the best first impression. And since introverts might not be as vocal, their unique needs can wind up buried or drowned out by the office noise.
In 2012, Susan Cain’s Quiet sparked a lot of chatter on the topic (somewhat ironically), but the conversation has since been rerouted by bright and shiny signposts marking the future of work.
Group brainstorming. Team parties. Open offices. This is, by most accounts, the road we’re heading down.
Quieter colleagues are the accidental casualties of this workplace revolution. All that socialization and stimulation is far from any introvert’s ideal. This is bad news for everyone—businesses and employees alike.
Social diversity versus cultural fit
In the past few years, Pinterest publicly vowed to hire a greater number of female engineers. HubSpot promised to recruit older employees. Meanwhile, Google is actively trying to bring more minorities on board.
They’re all feel good stories, backed by a business reason: diversity is good for the bottom line. Companies scramble to fill their ranks with people from all walks of life, knowing they’ll see a strong ROI on these hiring practices. It’s simple: different perspectives lead to increased innovation, and that gives you a market edge.
This emphasis on diversity should extend to how we socialize as well—but it’s been lost in the conversation surrounding cultural fit. These days, we’re focused on finding people we’d want to be friends with outside of work.
Introverts don’t fit the bill—at least not at first glance.
Job interviews are geared toward people better at selling themselves, people who can forge an immediate connection with the individual on the other side of the table. In other words, they’re geared toward extroverts.
While most introverts aren’t shy, unfriendly, or disengaged, their socialization style can make them appear that way to new acquaintances. Modern, casual interview styles only make the problem worse.
People still expect a job interview to be somewhat formal, and while extroverts can adapt to the unexpected atmosphere quickly, an introvert, prepared for a traditional interview, may struggle to adjust, if they even get to the interview stage.
As mentioned above, the modern office culture so prized by extroverted people pros can be alienating to quieter candidates. An “About Us” section on your career page that emphasizes whisky socials, Karaoke Fridays, or weekly office parties may have introverts running the other way.
A more inclusive future workplace
With introverts on board, people ops departments can avoid creating a culture that caters exclusively to a more gregarious, outgoing crowd.
Sure, Google has bowling alleys and open workspaces, but their headquarters also has a private library, accessible only by a secret passage, and noise-cancelling nap pods, for when employees need a break from office stimulation.
Linkedin has a similar story. You’ll find the usual game areas or conversation lounges, even the requisite ping-pong table. They actually have an arcade in the Australian office. But amidst the noise and bustle, there are also company sponsored meditation classes, quiet workspaces and they even offer the option to telecommute.
At LinkedIn, Wadors introduced the Quiet Ambassador Program, which provides their team members with specialized mentorship on how unique personality types can succeed professionally.
Over to you
You’ve heard it time and time again: the future of work is really about the employee experience. But if we ignore what that experience is for a third of our team members (that’s right—one in three people are introverted!) is the future of work really as bright as some claim?
Thanks to introverted people pros like Bock and Wadors, there are a multitude of ideas for helping to create workplace cultures that include everyone with offices that facilitate different sorts of socialization as well as individual time. Companies need to follow these example going forward and refuse to let social diversity be swallowed up by ‘cultural fit’.
Let’s rethink our definition of a ‘people person.’ As it turns out, introverts will make a solid addition to your HR or people ops team.