Are Younger Generations Apathetic?
Gen Xers are generally described as cynical – whether of organizational motives or those of politicians. This is then used to quickly explain why Gen Xers don’t get involved at the same level as Baby Boomers in either sphere. Certainly, the situation is not that simple. It is true that Gen Xers have a lower voter turn-out than Baby Boomers, but Gen Ys have a lower voter turn-out than Gen Xers. So the issue is much broader; however, there are factors that have caused Gen Xers to be more apathetic, rather than cynical.
Defining ‘Apathy’: Is it Fair Description of Gen Xers?
If we define ‘apathy’ as a “lack of enthusiasm, interest and concern”, the answer to the question as to whether or not Gen Xers are apathetic is: ‘It depends’. Gen Xers were not born apathetic; rather they have become increasingly apathetic, because they feel as if no one has cared to gauge their interest or be concerned about their issues. Since it is a much smaller cohort, after the Baby Boomers, Gen Xers have felt that their needs, motivations and concerns have not been focused on by organizations or politicians. The agenda has been dominated by the Baby Boomer generation. Gen Xers believed that the only choice was to follow that agenda. Also, the Gen X cohort was less oriented toward collective action because the members of this cohort possess strong independence streaks. We were not a generation whose mantra was ‘fight the man’ to change the world in a way that mirrored Baby Boomer interests. Rather, Gen Xers mantra is ‘what’s in it for me beyond what’s in it for you’, as they are constantly hoping that their interests can be met as well.
Gen Ys: To Be Apathetic or Not To Be Apathetic
While the voter turn-out for Gen Ys is less than that of Gen X, thereby implying that they might be apathetic too, that is not necessarily true. Gen Ys might not get involved in big-brand politics, but they are more collectively oriented. According to some studies, they get more involved at the grassroots level, in protests and in single-issue causes. Certainly, political parties are trying to reach this generation by working hard to understand what is of interest to them. Similarly, organizations and senior leaders are spending a lot of time, effort and money to understand what motivates and engages Gen Y employees. Gen Ys have been told and believe that they will be the next change agents in society and in organizations.
So what does this scenario mean for Gen Xers?
Gen Xers have essentially two choices. They can continue to remain uninvolved and continue to believe that they are not able to have an impact, or they can become a bridge between the two dominant generations. Rather than resent the degree of focus by organizations on Gen Ys, embrace the fact that organizations are creating cultures that seek to understand employee interests. Otherwise, the fear that Gen Xers have that they will be ‘passed over’, may very well come true.