Does Age Matter More When You’re An Introvert?01 April 2018 / By Megan Malone Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on April 01, 2018
In many cultures around the world, youth is associated with energy and passion. Reflective and calm personality traits are associated with being older and wiser. We are comfortable with these stigmas; however, we are slightly less comfortable when someone flips the switch.
As a millennial Introvert, I’ve had both my age and quiet temperament brought up several times throughout my professional career — and rarely in positive ways. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told to “speak up more.” While often well-intentioned, giving that sort of advice to an Introvert is like telling a depressed person to “just be happy.” There is no magic button that we can press to make us chatty — it’s more like a complex system of wires. Trying to change just one could cause the entire program to crash.
The comments about my quiet nature have made me not only hyper-aware of my introversion in the workplace, but also of my age. I work in marketing. I often find myself around young sales professionals full of the exuberance and passion that I lack. When you’re frequently told that you “don’t have enough experience” for a job but see people with even less experience getting promoted, you realize there’s something else at play.
I’m not a “high energy” person in the sense that I’m bouncing off the walls, throwing out ideas, and enthusiastically challenging the status quo. As an Introvert, I’m thoughtful and methodical. I do challenge ideas and passionately express opinions, but only after I’ve had time to process my thoughts and form quality conclusions internally.
Because I’m so different than many of my peers, I’ve often felt like I have to work harder to “prove” myself as capable. But just because I interpret my reality one way doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a universal truth. This article will look at how we view age and personality — primarily in the workplace — and answer the question: does age matter more when you’re an Introvert?
Ageism in the workplace
I’ve personally experienced ageism in relation to being young. However, ageism in the workplace primarily affects older adults. According to the Spherion Emerging Workforce Study, age impacts not only how employees view their own potential, but also how they perceive their coworkers’ and supervisors’ abilities. The study also revealed that millennials are more likely to judge others based on their age and more likely to agree that their age means more significant career opportunities.
Explaining the origin of ageism is complicated. However, it is largely based on perceived changes in personality among age groups. Some of these stereotypes are confirmed, and others are inaccurate. According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, older adults are perceived to be more agreeable and report higher levels of agreeableness than young adults. However, older adults are also perceived to be more depressed, even though younger adults self-report much higher levels of depression.
Young adults may personally be unfulfilled in entry-level jobs, but they are perceived more positively than their older coworkers. So, age alone isn’t holding back millennial Introverts.
Personality discrimination in the workplace
While I’ve never really felt like my age was holding me back in my career, I bring it up in this article because it’s so frequently mentioned as an excuse when the actual issue is personality discrimination. It’s acceptable to say, “You don’t have enough years of experience,” rather than admit that you’re skeptical of hiring someone who is an Introvert.
There is a major anti-introversion stigma in many workplaces. According to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 29% of employers use psychological assessments as part of the hiring process. I joke about how I’ve never gotten any job that has a personality assessment as part of the interview process, but it’s true. And the reason is that I’m honest.
The issue with hiring based on personality is that you assume a preference for introversion or extraversion, for example, will make someone a better fit for a job. While there are some circumstances where this may be true at a fundamental level, there’s really no evidence that someone’s personality will predict how effective they will be at their job. To me, this is virtually making the same assumption based on someone’s religion, political views or country of origin (all of which are legally prohibited forms of discrimination).
Don’t get me wrong — I’m a big fan of using personality assessments at work as a way to better understand yourself and improve group dynamics. Unfortunately, they’re often misused as a decision-making tool by individuals who don’t accurately understand their purpose.
Does age matter more than personality at work?
Both age and personality discrimination come down to perception and societal stigmas. Consider two candidates applying for a mid-level management position:
- Sarah is soft-spoken and kind. She is in her late 30s and already has over 10 years of management experience in the same industry.
- James is loud and confident. He’s in his early 30s and comes from a different industry, but also has a few years of similar management experience.
Who you choose will likely have less to do with experience and more to do with the personality type you prefer and perceive as the best fit for the role. The hiring and promoting process at work is entirely subjective, but because subjectivity breeds discrimination, employees and candidates aren’t honestly told why they didn’t receive the job or promotion.
Essentially, age matters less than personality, but what matters the most is the culture of the company you work for. If you work for a company that recognizes individual strengths and encourages growth, you’re more likely to thrive regardless of age or personality.
Ending the stigma about introversion
I recently received a promotion at work and had an honest conversation with the CEO about what he viewed as my biggest challenges. He told me that one of the challenges is my being soft-spoken, not because it’s a weakness but because others often perceive it as a weakness. He also told me that he believed in my skills and ability to do a great job. It was refreshing to get honest feedback reinforcing what I already “felt” was true.
Being an Introvert can hold you back in your career, but it doesn’t have to. For every horrible boss or company that makes you feel out of place, there is another who will recognize your strengths and appreciate what you have to offer. Finding those opportunities is difficult. In the meantime, it’s important for Introverts to work towards ending the stigma about introversion in the workplace. A few easy ways to do this are by talking to your coworkers about introversion, clearing up misconceptions when they happen and sharing educational resources about personality.
We often look fondly on older adults who are still “young at heart” and express the same energy and passion they had in their youth. Quiet and thoughtful young people are the other side of the same coin. It’s time to recognize that they too have unique perspectives to offer. Experience is crucial for advancing in your career, but I would encourage Introverts to probe deeper if they find that they consistently receive that sort of feedback.
If you’re not getting what you need from your current job, consider jumping ship and moving to a more supportive company. Or consider freelance and work-from-home opportunities. As Introverts, it’s essential that we don’t sit back and accept an unfulfilling reality because that’s “just how things are.” (Is my millennial passion showing, yet?) It’s up to us to have honest conversations and work to end the stigmas about introversion in the workplace.
lincait (not verified) says...
Thankyou thankyou thankyou I needed to read this right now, exactly how I'm feeling in the workplace. I sometimes concern myself with how I should medicate the way that I am and see you are feeling the exact same. Speaking less than the average person does make a less worthy a person
mregan1374 (not verified) says...
Great article. I for one am an introvert who has worked in outside sales for fifteen years. I am a gen X'er in my early to mid 40's. I am exhausted and anxious every day due to having to extravert myself for my job. I created this trap by chasing dollars early in my career, now there is no escaping the standard of living I need to provide...
Janet Murphy (not verified) says...
This is a great illumination of an issue not often discussed! I am a 50-something INFJ, and in numerous interviews, I have gotten the sense that I didn't get chosen because of perceived weaknesses. When you don't answer a question right away and dynamically, the interviewers "ding" you for lacking passion, drive or strength. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Jara (not verified) says...
Thanks for this insightful article, Megan. When I was interviewing for entry-level jobs as a fresh business school graduate in my 20s, I also discovered that my alleged "inexperience" didn't hinder or help me as much as the interviewer's personal perception of me.
My personality type preference is INFP, but people who don't know me well (and who judge based on appearances only) usually believe (and insist) that I'm an extrovert, especially on job interviews!
One of my favorite bosses asked me a unique question on the interview: "What's the biggest misconception that people have about you?" After thinking about it for a few seconds (because I had already been pondering this phenomenon for months after I left a stressful sales job in a hotel), my response was, "I come off as a bubbly extrovert, but I'd rather be doing my work in the corner somewhere away from the crowd."
Not only did he enthusiastically hire me and defend me against critics but he sat me right next to his office...which is far away from the main foot traffic path and he's rarely in his office! He was a level below the CEO in a large, successful tech company that highly values intuition. I was wearing a charm necklace with "intuition" written on one of the charms.
The marketing coordinator job itself was a perfect fit for me. Most of my behind-the-scenes work required solitude and social interaction by phone or internet, which are excellent buffers. I've had many jobs since then, including way-out-of-my-comfort-zone positions, such as community outreach team leader, operations manager (retail), youth camp counselor, Sunday school teacher, evangelist, prophet. Now I am regularly assigned to educate ministry leaders about how introversion works, how to welcome and integrate introverts into an extroverted church culture, how to develop and inspire introverts to serve more effectively, etc.
Looking back, each of my jobs was a stepping stone for what God had planned for me next in my journey with Him. I've learned that He uses people's biases (including our own) to steer us into the positions that He has created for us before we were even born! And it all started with me just knowing that I have a strong desire to strategically promote what I believe will benefit people the most.
JESUS: "Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” (John 7:24 NLT)
Proverbs 16:9 NLT
We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.
Proverbs 16:7 NLT
When people’s lives please the Lord, even their enemies are at peace with them.
1 Timothy 4:11-12 NLT
Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.
2 Timothy 1:5-7 NLT
I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
Jeremiah 1:4-12 NLT
The Lord gave me this message:
"I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”
“O Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”
The Lord replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the Lord, have spoken!”
Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said, “Look, I have put my words in your mouth! Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms. Some you must uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. Others you must build up and plant.”
Then the Lord said to me, “Look, Jeremiah! What do you see?”
And I replied, “I see a branch from an almond tree.”
And the Lord said, “That’s right, and it means that I am watching, and I will certainly carry out all my plans.”
Jeremiah 10:23 NLT
I know, Lord , that our lives are not our own. We are not able to plan our own course.
Jeremiah 29:11-13 NLT
"For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me."
Elle (not verified) says...
Your article really resonates with me! I am often quietly accomplishing so much at work, that sometimes no one actually notices just how much I am doing in a given day! Although I know I am doing well, it's been hard when my coworkers and boss don't seem to see just how much I am keeping everything running smoothly. While others complain vocally when something isn't easy, I will just think through it, take my time, and get it done!
I recently spoke up to my boss, addressing the fact that while I am often focused in tightly on tasks, that doesn't mean I also don't have a personality! I am introverted (an INFJ) and also very articulate and passionate. In my experience, people just aren't curious enough or don't want to take the time to see past their own noses, to truly learn who you are as a person. I am hoping that by doing excellent work, speaking up for myself when I am feeling uncomfortable about something, and showing my happy and intelligent personality whenever I get the chance, that I will be accepted by my coworkers as a valued team member.
Thank you again for writing this - it really is spot on!!
Ayman Salem (not verified) says...
Thank for your effort
S (not verified) says...
I wonder if this is an INFx (or possibly an NF) dynamic. This article bounced around about who was being discriminated against — based on age or personality, self perceptions and orhers’ perceptions — and seeemed to be more about the author processing her own experiences. This wasn’t a compelling argument for the universality of the “age vs. introversion” claim.
As an INTJ, I haven’t felt discriminated against for my age or personality. Would be curious to see comments from other introverts who aren’t INFx.
Melonie (not verified) says...
I have been a receptionest for 15 years at a small family company. I have been the only loyal one they have had. I heard stories from co-workers who've been here longer that some receptionest would go to lunch and not come back. I can understand why (thngs at my job can get very crazy very fast. Yet, it has been my loyalty that has helped the company keep a stable image. Is my job better for a younger, more energetic person? Sure! but a lot of times, those younger more energetic people are looking for the next big thing and will leave as soon as they have the chance
NK (not verified) says...
I'm an INFJ and this article made me feel so empowered and relatable! This article addresses something that doesn't enough attention and I think that if we all do our part to change this view point we can see and engage in a better world. Great job!
Bobby Havens (not verified) says...
I`m an INFP.As a kid,I was shy yet clingy,calm yet energetic and friendly,socially awkward yet affectionate,logical yet spiritual.I`ve often been confused for an extrovert yet I`ve always felt uncomfortable in large groups and shunned drugs and alcohol due to bad experiences with addiction in my family.
Pigbitin Mad (not verified) says...
I guess I am one of those people for whom failure is the only option.I am not someone who cannot pass a drug test, and I am not a doddering old fool at 50, but I am still totally 100% unemployable in the new economy, despite the fact that -- while I am not Steve Jobs -- most people really are dumber than me at technology....yes, even the young ones.
They say that nobody is truly unemployable, but I am here to give lie to that statement. I have beeen searching for work for literally years with no success (I am introverted but not THAT bad at most interviews... except where I decide early on that the hiring manager is a total jerk or the interview consists of canned questions from a list).
And ever since I can remember I have been labeled an Introvert like it is a bad thing.... like it will doom me to complete failure as compared to my more "go getter" peers. So there is that.