So much of work is social. Kickoff meetings, brainstorming sessions, team lunches, happy hours… all of these social work events might disadvantage shy, introverted or less social (in a word, quiet) employees.
The issue isn’t so much figuring out what to do about quiet employees—nobody should expect a quiet person to change their personality at work—but rather, how to ensure that they’re engaged and know their work is valued.
If your workplace values active participation, you may be setting quiet employees up for failure.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with encouraging employees to participate in meetings and other group activities, just as there’s nothing wrong with employees choosing not to participate and to contribute later through email or in a one-on-one conversation.
However, your culture might be skewed towards a certain level of participation and you may not even be aware you’re setting up such expectations.
Here are some things that may be telling your employees that their participation is directly impacting their growth and overall success at your company:
- Skipping out on non-mandatory activities means they’ve missed out on team-bonding opportunities (“oh, you had to be there!”).
- Employee’s performance as a team member is dependent on factors outside of their work performance, such as their participation in brainstorming or team-building activities. This may not be something that’s explicitly stated, but observed as a pattern for quiet employees who perform well but are possibly rated lower in performance reviews or viewed less favourably overall.
- Quiet employees may be passed over for promotions or other opportunities in the workplace because they are subconsciously seen as not team players or viewed as anti-social.
These missed opportunities may make quiet employees feel like they aren’t valued, so it’s important to find ways to include them without forcing them to participate.
The best insights can often come when you leave the room.
A recent LinkedIn article suggested that managers should leave the room for brainstorming sessions, allowing employees to discuss amongst themselves. Someone can write down ideas and “later managers [can] pursue thoughts and/or conclusions from the group, disregarding which individual made certain contributions”.
This will allow quiet employees to participate without the implicit pressure to. Alternatively, if you know that your quiet employees aren’t likely to contribute in a group setting, you can always discuss at a one-on-one or allow them to submit any ideas/concerns in writing.
It’s important that leaders also know their team members and the power dynamics between them. Many teams will have stronger personalities who tend to contribute a lot more, which can make it harder for quiet employees to jump in. Be sure to direct conversations to allow everyone to participate.
Providing meeting agendas can allow quiet employees to write out their thoughts beforehand so they are better prepared to contribute, if they so choose.
Providing a meeting agenda—whether it’s a detailed outline of all topics for a longer meeting or just a quick description such as “touch base about project X”—can provide all employees with the context they need for a meeting.
For quiet employees, meeting agendas can give them the opportunity to prepare some remarks, jot down their thoughts, and come ready with some ideas—helping to ensure that all employees can contribute in a way that is most comfortable for them.