Before the Meyers Briggs Types Indicator, the True Colours Test or the colour of your parachute, Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung famously divided the world into introverts and extroverts.

Today, over 100 years after Jung developed his salient tenets of personality, people continue to self-identify as introverts or extroverts. These personality leanings impact how people work, play, perform and interact with others.

Introverts vs. extroverts in the workplace

Simply put, introverts prefer quieter environments that allow for solitude and personal reflection. They are more comfortable in settings with fewer people and require time alone to recharge.

Extroverts tend to thrive and gain energy when around others. They prefer large groups of people and plenty of social interaction, and often like being the centre of attention.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, told Forbes our culture is biased against introverts: “Instead of embracing their serious, often quiet and reflective style, they are encouraged to act like extroverts – those assertive, outgoing types that love teamwork, brainstorming, networking and thinking out loud.” Cain believes this attitude results in a massive waste of talent, energy and happiness.

Studies show that a third to half of the population are introverted. However, the modern workplace is built for extroverts to thrive. This also means that workplace efforts meant for everyone may unintentionally exclude introverted staff. So, how do we fix this?

How wellness programs impact introverts

Thomas Millar is a wellness consultant with nearly 15 years of experience in corporate wellness. Millar has developed and implemented wellness programs with clients that include IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Aviva and Kenvue Canada, and prides himself in facilitating a culture of employee engagement.

Millar cautions that programs that don't consider the needs of introverts won't resonate and may cause anxiety. Millar says that programs geared primarily toward extroverts “likely won't get the same level of participation from the introverted population, or if they do participate, it may be solely because they feel that they have to and that they may miss out on professional opportunities or be looked at differently if they do not join in.”

Millar suggests the following for improving introvert engagement in your wellness programs.

Shortened activities

Something that is both social and a longer time commitment could create two barriers to attendance. Someone may be willing to try something new if the location is convenient and doesn't take too long.

Activities that remove social pressures

Events with a focus on socialization can be particularly stressful for introverts. If people know they will be attending an event based on an activity, such as a guided meditation, yoga, a spin or treadmill class, or perhaps even a cooking demonstration or class with a healthy recipe, there may be less pressure to be social or talkative.

Doing the work in advance

Talking to employees in different departments and roles within the organization can provide valuable information and excellent wellness ideas to implement, beyond what surveys can provide. People may be more likely to attend an event if they have developed a solid rapport with wellness event organizers.

Workplace wellness includes mindfulness of flexibility

Introverted employees may feel uncomfortable going for a walk at 10 a.m. if there is potential conflict or confrontation with management or colleagues, particularly during periods with impending deadlines and high work volume. Ironically, stressful times are when staff need wellness breaks the most to recharge and get back to the task at hand.

Three key challenges in all wellness programs

Millar says designing a wellness program that meets the needs of a diverse organization comes down to three factors:

1. Accessibility of the program

Your program must acknowledge that there are many different types of employees, including remote, office and field staff. Create programs that reflect the diverse physical and neurological needs of all staff to ensure that everyone who wants to participate can do so, and that participation does not need to look the same for everyone.

2. Scheduling

Timing based on your staff's many different lifestyles is an important consideration in maximizing your programs. Timing will need to consider religious events and holidays, whether or not people have kids, their preference for time of day, and work and personal schedules.

3. Getting to know the program users

Getting to know people can be time-consuming for a wellness provider, but it is at the crux of any effective wellness program. While you may be able to run a program based on past experience, workplace demographics are constantly changing, and it is a mistake to base a program simply on what has worked in the past.

Metrics for success

The number of people in attendance isn't the only metric you should be reviewing to measure the success of wellness programs. If events are well attended, but it's always the same people in the room, this doesn't equate to success, as you're serving the same people you've always been serving.

Millar concludes that programs that don't consider everyone's needs may leave people feeling alienated or cast aside and says, “Our goal for our wellness program is to improve the health and engagement of employees, but if we don’t consider everyone, we could unwittingly be doing the exact opposite of that.” By keeping an open mind and engaging with all staff, you can improve the overall wellness of everyone, not just the loudest people in the room.

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