Together or Alone? How Group Participation Affects Workplace Stress

The Stress Symptoms of Introverts vs Extroverts

“Let’s have a team building retreat next quarter!” For some, this idea elicits excitement as they think, “I love my team! It will be so much fun to spend extra time with them.” Others mentally roll their eyes and think, “I already spend half my day in meetings with the team. I don’t need more togetherness.”

Does this mean one employee likes the team more than the other? Not necessarily. It may just mean they have different needs when it comes to team and group participation. 

Introvert Stressed Our needs are a window into how we’ll react to work-related stress, so it’s important to know that everyone on your team probably has varying preferences for how much group time they need. Workplace social situations can be very energizing for extroverted team members, but leave others feeling drained. 

How can you better understand your team’s preferences and provide the “togetherness” balance that minimizes team stress symptoms? It comes down to discovering workplace needs. For example, the need for group participation exists on a spectrum and is different for each of your team members.

Determining Your Team’s Needs for Group Participation

How we show up at work may not be consistent with our true needs or how we behave in our personal lives (more on this below). Why? Our needs are invisible to others and are not necessarily the same as our outward behavior. This makes it hard for leaders to determine whether team members prefer a group or individual workplace setting.

But we’re here to help. Use the questions below to gain insight into the needs of your team members, and where they fall on the introvert/extrovert scale. 

  • In the workplace, do you prefer to collaborate with a larger group or in the company of one or two others?
  • During team activities such as meetings, are you a consistent participant, or do you contribute primarily when the topic is important?
  • Do you enjoy parties and get-togethers after work, or do you save those for the weekend?
  • Do you feel energized or drained after a group brainstorming or problem-solving session?
  • Are you more likely to seek the opinion of the group or one or two trusted colleagues when facing a challenge?
  • Does the idea of attending an industry conference fill you with excitement or dread?
  • If you were at an industry convention, would you actively network, or let people find you and establish common ground?
  • Would you feel energized or drained after spending most of the day working alone?

Patterns leaning towards group inclusion signify a more extroverted personality, while patterns leaning towards time alone or with a couple of teammates indicate a more introverted personality. Results may align well for some in terms of typical workplace behavior, but others’ results might be surprising. What can the results teach leaders about stress management?

Group Time Can Be Stressful for Introverts

From “wallflower” to “party pooper,” society is creative in negatively labeling introverts. To prevent such labels, many people who are reserved at their core often show up in the workplace as very sociable and outgoing. Extroverts have a documented advantage in the workplace, with this personality trait linked to favorable performance reviews and faster promotions.

Team members who need more time alone may hide that need because experience shows that being more outgoing gets them further in the workplace. But it takes a lot of energy to pretend to be someone you’re not. The result? Group time becomes a source of stress. Everyday work events like team meetings or brainstorming sessions can sap the energy of introverts. And adding on “fun” gatherings like happy hours or other office celebrations can completely drain them. 

Social exhaustion can lead to unproductive stress reactions such as an unfriendly demeanor, impatience in group settings, or complete withdrawal from group participation. None of these stress reactions are healthy for the team dynamic, but the introverts on your team may be reluctant to honor their need for independence.

But let’s be clear here. Both extroverts and introverts areIntrovert at Work extremely important to the team dynamic. 

To meet your introverted team members’ need for independence from the group, consider the following suggestions:

  • Don’t flood their calendar with meetings, as it removes the opportunity for them to work independently
  • Relieve the pressure when external events such as happy hours arise by letting them know you understand their need to step away from the group–but don’t exclude them from the invite
  • As much as possible, work with them individually or with one or two others to increase productivity and preserve energy

Introverts typically know most workplace settings require some group participation. But respecting their need to sometimes work outside of the group goes far in preventing signs of stress for these team members.

Extroverts Show Stress Symptoms With the Absence of Group Time

We all know the guy who loves to chat in the breakroom, speaks up first at team meetings and is the first to show up at happy hour. He’s the one who needs the company of a group to be at his best and thrives in social settings such as industry conventions and networking events. There seems to be no limit to his ability to brainstorm with the team or introduce himself to strangers.

Extroverts at WorkBut what happens when the extrovert has to work remotely? This separation from the group leaves them feeling lonely and dejected, depleting the energy they need to be most productive. Comparing their energy to a battery, it’s running out of charge the longer they work alone. This low energy can lead to signs of stress, such as frustration due to exclusion from meetings and feeling unappreciated. They may also place too much weight on the approval of the group for decisions they could make independently.


Consider the tips below to meet the needs of your extroverted team members:

  • Include your extroverted team members in meetings and other group activities when appropriate
  • Be available to them when they seek your opinion on decisions or workplace challenges
  • Charge their battery with opportunities to participate in professional development opportunities. These might include networking events, conferences, or industry peer groups.

Extroverts will always have to spend some time in the workplace flying solo. However, giving them a flight crew as often as possible can provide a less turbulent workplace setting.

A team, by its nature, is a group, and virtually all personality types can work productively in a group setting. But keeping group participation preferences in mind can maximize team energy, minimizing sources of stress for the introverts and extroverts on your team.

Wondering how much group participation your team members want? The Birkman Signature Report provides a deep dive into this and other workplace needs such as the need for structure or incentives that impact team stress levels. Download a sample report to see what other insight you can gain into your team members.