Millennials And Empathy At Work

It’s hard to have a discussion about Millennials without someone mentioning Millennials and empathy at work and how Millennials are less empathetic than Boomers and Gen X.

Successful business leaders know this is an important conversation that can’t be ignored and are finding ways to:

  • Use Behaviour Event modeling (BEI) to hire Millennials who will demonstrate empathy at work
  • Engage Millennial employees – and all staff – with meaningful work
  • Nurture Millennial employees – and all staff – by providing frequent training (including soft skills like mindfulness)
  • Retain Millennial employees – and all staff – by treating and rewarding them as individuals

Successful business leaders are adjusting their hiring and management style because they know employees are an investment. And, on the topic of Millennials, more and more business leaders also recognize Millennials are highly motivated to invest in ‘their career’ and the organization that can advance that career, but Millennials do not invest in ‘a job’. 

So, how does empathy fit into todays business model?

As I mentioned above, more and more successful business leaders are hiring employees who will demonstrate soft skills like empathy and flexibility as well as technical skills, education and experience. Adding empathy and soft skills to their hiring mix is no surprise considering the work of biologist, professor of psychology and author Frans de Waal, PhD.  de Wall writes in his book, The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons For A Kinder Society that Empathy is the social glue that holds human society together.” And  business leaders want employees who will innovate and support each other and their customers… which requires empathic, compassionate, collaborative and motivated individuals.

To begin this blog series dedicated to helping business leaders and Millennials explore empathy, I’m going to start by questioning the word empathy. 

Is Empathy The Right Word?

There is a lot of confusion about the word empathy… and therefore, what is empathy at work. To build this discussion on a good foundation, I offer the following descriptions of three words that are often misused: ‘What is Sympathy,’ ‘What is Empathy,’ and ‘What is Compassion.’What Is Empathy?

  • What is Sympathy? Sympathy is a person’s ability to be aware of and correctly understand or imagine how another person is feeling but it’s not important that you share their feelings and you certainly do not take action to assist.
  • What is Empathy? Empathy is a person’s ability to be aware of and correctly understand or imagine how another person is feelings and you are able to share their feelings. A common example/saying is being able to imagine ‘being in another person’s shoes.’
  • What is Compassion? Compassion involves taking action to assist. You feel all the things associated with empathy… and then if you choose to help, you feel compassion. If you say ‘I want to help them,’… and do help them… you demonstrate compassion… especially if you give up something of yourself (time, emotional wellbeing, money).

Based on these descriptions, I believe when most people speak of Millennials and empathy at work, they actually mean compassion because they expect the employee to take action to assist. For example, the Millennial may be:

  • A sales person who is listening to a customer’s needs so they can recommend the best solution.
  • A manager giving a performance review that falls short of an employee’s expectations and must find a way to demonstrate this is a learning opportunity for the employee.

Do you agree these are examples of compassion at work – not empathy at work?


By 2025, three out of four workers worldwide are expected to be Millennials according to Time Magazine. The time is now for us all to help each other understand and safely express emotions like sympathy, empathy and compassion at work… and at home.  Being listened to and understood is very important to feeling respected. Being listened to and understood also goes a long – long way to building trusting relationships and calming people who are upset. 

In upcoming posts within this blog series I will continue to explore questions concerning empathy and Millennials. This will include how we can all become more empathic and… compassionate.

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

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