Have you ever felt like there’s too much talk and social stimulation to get any work done? Introverts thrive on alone time and quiet time: you need it to focus, to explore, and to let the true depths of your creativity shine. Unfortunately, the world of work isn’t always conducive to your creativity. There are probably plenty of times when you feel that way about the rest of the world, too.
Author Susan Cain points out that one-third to one-half of people are introverts, yet society favors extroverted tendencies. We organize workplaces and other institutions to favor extroverts, and “introverts learn from an early age to act like pretend-extroverts.” This doesn’t help introverts reach their full potential. She cites research pointing to the ineffectiveness of group brainstorming sessions for empowering employee creativity. Likewise, workgroups as part of basic business structure tend to hinder creativity and productivity for introverts.
What is an introvert to do? You need to be creative to realize your potential, yet plenty of employers don’t enable your creativity. To unlock creativity, get proactive with these tips.
Spend Time Outdoors
Spending time in nature can improve creativity by 50 percent, which helps with problem solving and attention span, and lowers your fatigue levels. David Strayer, an environmental psychologist from University of Utah, conducted a study in which participants spent 72 hours in nature. This helps the brain’s prefrontal cortex get some rest. The participants showed a 50 percent improvement in creative problem solving skills as a result.
Similarly, a University of Michigan study showed that 50 minute walks in an arboretum improved short-term memory and other executive functions. Outdoor time in an urban environment didn’t prove to have the same effect.
Prioritize spending time in nature when you’re not at work. Do your best to eat your lunch and take your breaks in a nearby park. Take outdoor time for yourself, and return to work refreshed and ready to get creative.
Unable to spend more time in nature? Sunlight is the next best thing. Get more natural light while you’re at work, and you’ll be more productive. Your health will also benefit from the increase of Vitamin D. Gravitate towards natural light in your workplace as much as possible.
Lobby for Change
If you’re not happy with the organization and culture—as well as the options for people like you at your workplace—you may want to consider lobbying for change. Most companies want to do what they can to lessen attrition and ensure employees remain loyal.
Loyal employees are so valuable to employers. As a loyal employee, suggest ways in which they can better accommodate your personality type.
If there’s an HR department, start there. It’s a great idea to speak your mind through satisfaction surveys, but direct feedback can really help too. Ask the HR manager for a meeting, or simply let her know you have some constructive feedback to offer. If you feel afraid to be personally identified as someone who’s not ‘satisfied’ and therefore, a ‘problem employee’, that is a good sign your employer isn’t doing enough to facilitate open communication.
It doesn’t hurt to come to your HR manager prepared with information on the four pillars of employee engagement:
- Collaboration: People collaborate differently; some need consistent face-to-face communication in a team setting, while others need the type of collaboration you crave— which can take place via social apps such as Slack, on a semi-regular basis in person, or via email
- Support: For you, a flexible working arrangement, in which you could work from home at least part of the week, could really help improve your concentration
- Feedback: You’d like to be able to tailor how you receive feedback; you’d love feedback after a task is finished and in a one-on-one setting with the supervisor or manager
- Recognition: You probably don’t need a ton of recognition for your achievements, because you’re satisfied when you can really sink your teeth in, get creative, and do your best; for you, a fantastic form of recognition is simply the feedback, support, and collaboration style you prefer
HR will be happy you’re open enough to sit down and have a conversation. You’re an introvert, but you’re not closed off. The more your employer strengthens the engagement pillars by adapting them to your working style, the more engaged you’ll be. They’ll be impressed with the high-quality work you produce.
Consider Cultural Fit
Admittedly, sometimes a company’s culture is just not the right fit. You lobby HR for change, but nothing happens. Getting work done is a struggle each day because of constant meetings, chit-chat, and managerial interruptions. Dare I say it? You may want to consider a different company.
Different companies have different organizational styles and, therefore, varying cultures. When you’re looking at which companies you’d like to work for, consider the following organizational models that contribute to company culture:
- Adhocracy: No structure in terms of employee roles
- Holacracy: Highly structured, clearly-defined roles, with an even distribution of power
- Meritocracy: Decision-maker defines employee roles and power based on merits of their work
- Clan-based: Emphasis on collaboration and nurture as opposed to competition and individual work
As an introvert, you’re equipped to do well in any one of these organizational models. But if you want your creativity to shine, you’ll do great in some cultures more than others.
You’re likely looking for the type of culture that will nurture creativity. Holacracies and adhocracies lend themselves to horizontal culture, in which flexibility is the norm. In an adhocracy you define your role, while your role is predetermined in a holacracy.
Either one might be great for you. But if the adhocracy is marked by a lot of jostling and inconsistency in terms of employee role fulfillment (people are encroaching on each other’s roles, it’s chaotic, and it requires a lot of negotiation), you’ll probably want to go with a holacracy that gives you a lot of freedom and flexibility to innovate and thrive within your set role.
If a clan-based, team-first culture is happy to nurture your introverted tendencies, you could be very happy there. Think of this as a family willing to be flexible to your needs.
Or maybe you’re a peak performer who didn’t see enough room for advancement and innovation at your old job. In that case, an elite culture that defines roles based on merit sounds right for you.
To assess the organizational model of the workplace, read the job description carefully, check out the Glassdoor reviews of companies you’re considering, and ask plenty of questions during interviews.
No matter what type of culture you end up in, it’s essential to communicate your needs. Let your manager know you need a certain amount of uninterrupted alone time, and ask what the company can do to facilitate this. If there are brainstorming sessions for your projects, find out if they can be optional.
Simply put, your company may not know what you need. You’ll be surprised how accommodating people can be when you assert your needs. Once they see the difference in terms of your productivity, your assertiveness will be an extremely valuable asset to everyone in the organization.