Why young people hate phone calls and how it could affect their careers

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Young people today are using their smartphones for almost everything except making phone calls.

Many under 40 prefer texting or sending images instead of speaking on the phone.

A 2023 survey of over 1,000 Gen Z Australians aged 18 to 26 found that nearly 60% dread making or receiving phone calls.

Similarly, in the United States, 81% of millennials feel anxious before making a call. For many, talking on the phone has become a modern-day phobia, like a fear of spiders or heights.

So why do young people avoid phone calls, and how might this impact their careers?

Feeling ambushed by phone calls

I lead the journalism school at Murdoch University, where making effective phone calls is crucial for success.

To understand young people’s attitudes towards phone calls, I conducted an informal survey with 15 students.

At a conference, I suggested that “telephobia” might be causing younger generations to lose an important communication skill. Many of my students said they find it rude to receive unexpected voice calls. Some won’t answer calls even from their parents, preferring to let them go to voicemail and respond later via text.

Unknown numbers cause even more anxiety. Many students fear that a call from an unknown number means something is wrong. When it turns out to be a non-emergency, they feel ambushed and annoyed.

Texting misses something important

Telephone and face-to-face interviews are often more powerful than email. Asking uncomfortable questions is easier in person or on the phone, where trust and empathy can be built through non-verbal cues.

Studies from Canada show that face-to-face requests are 34 times more effective than those made via email, even though both groups felt equally confident about their chances of success.

My colleagues in the Australian media have noticed that new reporters are often more technically skilled than previous generations but still need to be reminded to use the phone for interviews.

At Murdoch University, we’ve increased the time spent teaching phone interview skills. We found that students are more successful and less anxious when they practice making phone calls early in their training. The goal is to make at least 10 phone calls, starting with classmates and then strangers.

Despite this, it’s likely to remain a challenge. New technologies often make voice calling less common, leading to even more reliance on texting and other forms of communication.

Researchers Leanna Kim and Sang-Hwa Oh found that phone anxiety is linked to a preference for other communication methods. People might choose texting over calling to avoid the anxiety of a phone conversation, even though fears of awkward interactions are often exaggerated.

We might not return to the days of family landlines in the hallway, but voice calls will always be important. Younger generations just need to pick up the phone and let their voices be heard.