| January 3, 2017

OK, I exaggerated a bit: Some people return messages — quickly and informatively. But most do not.

This issue was crystallized for me in a recent offhand comment by a business colleague. We were discussing an issue of mutual interest, and she said — in reference to a third person involved in our transaction — "He’s a Millennial, so he’s probably not going to return my call, but I’m going to leave him a message anyway."

READ: 10 Texting Do’s and Don’ts to Help You Avoid a Dating Disaster

The casualness with which she said it surprised me, and got me thinking and talking to others. There seems to be a marked rise from even a decade ago in terms of the regularity and predictability with which all kinds of messages are returned.

Where’s the sense of urgency? Call me a dinosaur, but I always felt that returning messages was important, a sign of reliability, a good thing in business. When I was in the corporate world, a mere three-and-a-half years ago, I always made it a point to return all messages — unless a message was completely off topic, such as a cold call peddling cat food — by the end of the day. I might have left just a very short voicemail or a brief email, but I still returned them. I viewed it as a responsibility.

Today, there doesn’t seem to be the same sense of urgency. The situation is widespread, but it feels most acute among Millennials. For example, phone messages are seldom listened to, emails may or may not be returned, a Facebook invitation might be accepted months after it’s offered, texts float unanswered in some sort of vast casual cyber void. While this isn’t solely a Millennial issue, it seems more concentrated there.

READ: Who Falls for More Internet Scams: Millennials or Seniors?

What's going on? To try to make some sense of my observations, I spoke with a number of people, including some Millennials. Interestingly, no one really disagreed with me; on the other hand, no one seemed too disturbed about it either.

Here are three reasons why people don't call you back:

#1. There are too many different kinds of messages out there.

Between texts, tweets, Facebook messages, LinkedIn emails, traditional e-mails, voice mails, and others, it’s easy for any single message to get lost in the shuffle.

#2. He's too busy.

Everybody’s rushing and multi-tasking, zipping from one activity to another with mobile devices glued to their ears and fingers — and in a generally frenetic environment, it’s easy to have small things like messages slip through the cracks.

#3. He's kind of lazy and he'd rather avoid the hard stuff.

This may account for why increasing numbers of my harder-edged, shall we say, business messages go unanswered. Conflict is unpleasant, as is the notion someone might not be doing something all that well. So if there’s not a clear expectation that a definite answer is required (and sometimes even if there is), it’s easier and less stressful to ignore and forget it.

READ: The Ridiculous Reason Millennials Don't Eat Breakfast Cereal

I always felt responding to messages was kind of the unglamorous bricks-and-mortar of how business got done. Unexciting and tedious, but a necessity. I sometimes wonder what the longer-term business implications are for productivity in a world with diminished responsiveness.


Victor Lipman is the author of "The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World" (Prentice Hall Press). Find out why Howling Wolf Management Training is named what it is.