Many of our clients are looking at generational difference when thinking about diversity and inclusion. As required, retirement ages have been eradicated and the drive to work with more apprentices has increased. Your workforce potentially has the widest range of ages compared to any other time in history. This means understanding colleagues who may span five decades is all the more important. However, at InclusIQ we are particularly interested in generational difference with the growing body of research showing young millennials are some of the least empathetic ever.
Sara Konrath’s research made headlines a few years ago when she found that 14,000 American college students had 40% less ’empathic concern’ and ‘perspective taking ability’ than previous generations, going back 30 years. Given the biggest drop occurred after the year 2000, researchers think the ubiquity of technology is to blame. More specifically, the rise of internet gaming, social media, online pornography and the ‘selfie’ culture was credited with fuelling this rise of ‘Generation Me’.
According to this research, today’s young people are ‘the most self-centred, competitive, confident and individualistic generation in recent history.’ This is worrying stuff, for parents but also employers. If you lack empathy, you can’t effectively participate – let alone predict how colleagues and clients will react to your decisions. We risk creating a band of unhelpful, solitary outsiders for whom teamwork is not a natural state. Konrath’s work in the UK, finding much the same results, has inspired School Heads, such as Andrew Halls of Kings College School near Wimbledon, to offer ‘empathy lessons’. He told the Sunday Times ‘Our pupils are still kind, they’re not more badly behaved than the previous generations, but they do need more reminding of a baseline of decency and humanity. ’
While millennials may be potentially less empathetic, the desire to understand has not gone away. Indeed, we see this in our Culture Club Workshops, which blend technology and classroom learning. We notice one of the most popular features of our online games in the workshops is our empathy walkthrough – where you can see what the other characters are thinking in response to your choice. We then discuss these issues in the post-play session to grow management skills – ‘What do you think was going through that colleagues’ mind? What were their concerns? How could you have addressed them better?’ Given the state of geopolitics, the uncertainty in markets and the lack of communication between different groups, we at InclusIQ think we could all use a bit more empathy, no matter what your age.