The difference between introverts and extroverts is how they replenish their energy—introverts by spending time alone and extroverts by being around other people. The pandemic put both groups at risk of burnout, but for different reasons.
“The office environment historically has been set up for the extroverts,” says Mark Simmonds, author of Beat Stress at Work. “When lockdown happened all over the world, suddenly the introverts couldn’t believe their luck.”
Separation from colleagues, family, and friends was more difficult for extroverts in the early days of remote work and self-quarantine, says Andrew Shatte’, PhD, chief knowledge officer and cofounder of meQuilibrium, an employee resilience solution.
“However, by the end of 2020, we saw large spikes in loneliness, and introverts and extroverts were equally affected,” he says. “Burnout occurs when the demands placed on us greatly outstrip our psychological, emotional, and physical resources. Everyone needs social contact to preserve mental wellbeing.”
Connection is a key pillar of belonging, says Dr. Natalie Bumgartner, chief workforce scientist for the employee engagement platform Achievers. “Those who say they have strong relationships at work are 2.4 times more likely to have a strong sense of belonging,” she says. “Even those who are introverted need to feel this sense of connection.”
Social support is an important mediating factor for stress. Extroverts, who typically maintain more connections, had an advantage during the pandemic if they actively sustained those relationships, says Kelly Berte, director, HR Research & Advisory at McLean & Company, an HR research firm. But that advantage comes with another type of risk.
“A counteracting factor is the potential for virtual fatigue for extroverts,” she says. “[They] had to rely on technology-based solutions to foster the same level of social connection as they did prior to the pandemic, in addition to using technology during working hours. Introverts may be more inclined to switch off at the end of the workday.”
How introverts and extraverts can deal with burnout
One good thing that can come out of burnout is recognizing that it’s your brain saying ‘enough is enough,’ and forcing you to change what you’re doing, says Simmond. “It’s taking things out of your hands,” he says. “It’s like putting your hand into a boiling pot of water. The brain automatically withdraws your hand. When you feel burned out, the brain is saying, ‘Okay, I gave you a warning. I gave you chances. Now I’m shutting down shop until you start to guard yourself.'”
The state of constant change has made it challenging to use any existing coping techniques that either an extrovert or introvert would typically turn to, says Berte. “Don’t try to solve the problem alone,” she says. “The best ways to cope are revealed when systemic root causes, such as work, family, and friendships, are identified and tackled together.”
Shatte’ says the strategies for dealing with pandemic-inspired burnout are largely the same for introverts and extroverts. He recommends rebuilding a sense of calm by getting around the thinking styles that lead you to exaggerated emotional responses.
“Ensure that you are taking care of yourself by navigating around those large ‘I should’ beliefs that push us to give too much care to others before we look after ourselves,” he says. “Inject positivity in your day to restore the balance of good and bad events. Reconnect to a sense of meaning in your job and your life. And return to in-person social interaction, whether you like it or not.”
Bumgartner encourages leaders to talk to employees to learn what they need to feel rejuvenated. “How can you support your team?” she asks. “What will help them be engaged and feel a sense of belonging? Belonging is the critical measure of whether an employee feels connection, security, and community at work—individuals with a strong sense of belonging at work are more productive, more committed to their jobs, and more engaged.”
Embracing the hybrid working model provides an opportunity for both groups to thrive, says Simmond. “An introvert will say, ‘I want to come into the office two days a week to meet people and get enough stimulation, and then I will be home alone for the other three days,'” says Simmonds. “Extroverts can go back more days. That’s just a brilliant compromise.”