Why Are Millennials Less Empathetic Than Boomers?

“Why are Millennials less empathetic than Boomers?”… or perhaps the question should be… “Are Millennials less empathetic than Boomers?”

In my previous post of this ‘Empathy Series’ I closed with the important statistic that by 2025, three out of four workers worldwide are expected to be Millennials according to Time Magazine. That simply means that now is the time for serious discussions on leadership, empathy, compassion and interpersonal relationship in the workforce… because first impressions and how we build business and personal relationships matter.First Impression

There are studies by Sarah Konrath and her associates at the Institute for Social Research that show Millennials ARE less empathetic in comparison to Boomers (and Gen X)… when Boomers were in their late teens early twenties. But, how does that help you and me today? That’s why I believe a more relevant question is, “Are Millennials in todays workforce less empathic than Boomers in todays workforce?

The Challenge

We don’t really need studies to show us that a large part of todays workforce demonstrates low levels of empathy. All we have to do to run our own test/review is to think of our last few experiences as a customer.

For Millennials, this shift is not because our genetic code is changing (thankfully no GMO’s here). Part of the challenge is that their parents have focused non-stop attention on achievement-oriented stimuli including:

  • Back-to-back schooling, tutors, dance classes, karate, summer band camp… etc.
  • Pressure to:
    • Be their personal / professional best
    • Look for the next opportunity – quickly
  • Little time for unstructured, creative thinking / play
    • Virtually no time when they are not entertained by a backseat DVD or an iSomething
  • Little time being taught social skills by family and / or role models
    • Families used to always eat breakfast and dinner together (with the TV off)
  • The majority of communication now by Text Message and/or Email and/or Social Media
  • Being always accessible by (and using), a smart phone or tablet

All of this has made Millennials (and Gen Z… the iGeneration), a tech savvy, goal-oriented generation that has high expectations, low brand / employer loyalty and little experience being empathetic.

But the drop in empathy doesn’t only sit with Millennials. The challenge is that while Boomers and Gen X used to demonstrate higher levels of empathy, many are now also demonstrating lower levels of empathy. This drop is because most Boomers and Gen Xers are now consumed with the same achievement-oriented stimuli that Millennials experience… for example:

  • More work / fewer people
  • Higher expectations / pressure at work:
    • Be our personal best / family best / professional best
    • Respond to all inquiries quickly
  • Greater pressure to constantly exceed previous performance expectations
  • Pressure to have enough money so they can retire… and travel… and enjoy the cottage… and…
  • Social pressures:
    • To give their children the best opportunities to succeed
    • Social Media posts by friends who save selfies in Rome or write ‘I have the best life.

The Result

In today’s busy, overstressed work environments we are all demonstrating less empathy than is best for our business and professional relationships.

At home and at work, almost everyone from every generation is moving so quickly, they might, in a face-to-face situation, ‘recognize’ how someone is feeling. But, they can’t afford the time to help or get involved.

In addition… electronics continues to put a barrier between people. The result is I’m:

  • Less likely to accurately ‘recognize’ your emotions and feelings if we communicate via email or text.
  • Less likely to consider your needs if I can’t see you.
  • More likely to be more impatient and to get their faster via an email or text.
  • More likely to say things via an email or text that I would likely never say to your face.

Conclusion

Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials and Gen Z are beginning to respond in similar ways.

How we build relationships and communicate with each other and how we socialize (text, social media vs. face-to-face), has changed. It’s important to note it’s not only Millennials who are communicating differently.

30 years ago society had to interact, talk, listen and pause to get anything done, this means as people we got lots of practice to ‘read’ other people. In addition we had the time to explore a challenge and consider the impact on everyone. Now, the high pressure – high demand – performance driven environments don’t give us time.

So, while there is lots of evidence that for most – the frequency of empathy has dropped, but I’m not comfortable suggesting that Millennials are less empathetic than Boomers.

Note: The importance of technology and devices like smart phones and tablets is important in this discussion of empathy. I will review this topic in the next post in this series.

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Happy communicating.

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Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Email Etiquette, Managing Difficult Conversations, Multigenerational Training, Time Management and Mindfulness.

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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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