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Why Millennials Job-Hop

Sept. 1, 2020
As a Millennial and a business owner, I am frequently asked why Millennials job-hop. In fact, it seems as though everyone has been talking about Millennials for years now. We […]

As a Millennial and a business owner, I am frequently asked why Millennials job-hop. In fact, it seems as though everyone has been talking about Millennials for years now. We are probably the most talked-about, complained-about, and misunderstood generation. Most voices speaking about Millennials and seeking to define us aren’t even Millennials themselves — they are generationally on the outside looking in.

I hope I can help bring some clarity — as a Millennial. In addition to my own experience and research, I have included the perspectives of other Millennial contributors who have asked to remain anonymous.

Some important context first: building up to the end of 2019, the labor market saw record lows in unemployment. There was what appeared to be a national game of professional musical chairs. From entry-level all the way up to C-Suite, professionals were leaving and taking jobs at unprecedented rates. However, the economic fallout of COVID-19 stopped the music and millions of employees found themselves without a seat.

Job hopping has slowed drastically in 2020, primarily due to the shortage of jobs and a critical loss of job security. However, as our country opens back up, the economy recovers, and unemployment rates lower again, job-hopping will not be far behind. Taking time now to understand why your employees (specifically your young professionals) job-hop will prepare you to better engage and retain your team.

There are general reasons why anyone would leave a job, regardless of age or career stage:
they have a bad manager,
they aren’t making ends meet on their current salary
they don’t want to relocate, etc.

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However, below are 5 more specific reasons Millennials job-hop.

1. We are finding our place in the world.
The best way to decide what we want to do for the rest of our lives is to try things out for ourselves. Trying different jobs, even within the same field or industry, provides much-needed experience in answering the questions:
What do I want to do with my life?
What team do I want to be a part of?
How can I make an impact on my world?

For most of us, these are not questions we automatically knew all the answers to before experiencing anything. We have to go out and try things.

“My goal is to enjoy what I do because I will be characterized by my vocation and my job will define my identity in some ways. Since I can’t buy time, I’d better enjoy what I do.”  – Jeremy Z.

Here’s the thing: trying out different jobs and companies is not a new thing or even a "Millennial thing." In fact, when GenXers were the age that Millennials are now, they job-hopped just as much. Even Baby Boomers job-hopped – having on average 10 jobs between the ages of 18-34. Oops. There goes that stereotype of Millennials.

Trying new jobs and experimenting is tied more to life stage and career stage than generation.

2. We are looking for a job that makes a difference to our world.
We Millennials want our lives to have meaning beyond the buck. We get flak for leaving jobs because they are not making an impact or because they don’t believe in what the company is doing. Yes, this is the real world and people need real jobs to pay rent and eat food — that’s true. But we are also people with real lives — and life is about more than just money.

It IS important to find fulfillment in work, and it IS important to actively seek to make a difference through what we do! We consider it a tragedy to live our entire lives, work our entire careers disconnected from our work, and have only our bank accounts to show for it.

“I actually left my previous job for a lower-paying job! I felt like I was just another number producing revenue – nothing more. I felt like my success had zero impact on the company.”  – MEC

Steve Jobs said Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.

Seeking meaning, fulfillment, and opportunities to make a lasting difference, is not a bad thing, nor is it just a "Millennial thing". It can’t be replaced by free beer and ping pong tables.

“The desire is for real, intrinsic meaning and impact. Pandering to this with amusing novelties is something easily spotted from a mile away. Not only does this façade not work, it will actively drive people away. There is no substitute for truly making the world a better place through a career.”  – Ryan A.

3. We are looking for more opportunities to learn and grow.
Today’s young professionals value growth, new experiences, and new learning opportunities immensely. For us, experiences are a very real currency, and our decisions reflect that. However, an insatiable desire for new opportunities is not a “Millennial thing.” It is a natural progression in the stages of human development. It is the process of discovering what we can do, seeing what we are capable of, and wanting to try new things. I think this internal desire for new and more remains life-long, though it can be dulled or ignored.

In our desire to learn and grow, we find that job-hopping often provides more opportunities than staying in one place does. Sometimes it’s because our job descriptions are rigid, and once we learn the ropes, there isn’t much else within our role to learn or experience. Sometimes it’s because our leadership fails to adequately invest in our growth and development. We’re not alone — in fact 94% of employees would stay at their company longer if it invested more in their growth and development!

“I was not being listened to when I asked for mentorship and coaching on skills that were unrelated to my specific ‘job description’ but aligned with my interests. As a result, they lost their top-performing employee and I found a company that encourages communication and collaboration”  – MEC

When we get to the point in our jobs where we are consistently thinking I know I am capable of more than this, something needs to change.

Instead of just wishing we could do more, we go find a place where we CAN do more.

If the only way to move up the established “track” is by filling the roles of the people above us when they leave, then what motivation do we have to stay and indefinitely play the waiting game if we can surely advance by taking new jobs? Unless an organization has a very robust talent development process in place and clear plans for consistent new opportunities, we likely won’t stay very long.

“Until, as organizations, we develop a robust talent pipeline within our organization, we will continue to hemorrhage top talent and, in some cases, be left with those that we wish were no longer with us.”  – Will M.

4. We get paid better by job-hopping.
Most young professionals nowadays are not primarily motivated by money. We do look for meaning beyond pay. That being said, however, we still need to eat, pay for housing and repay $2 trillion dollars in collective debt. So, given the option of making more money or less money, I don’t think you’d blame us for choosing to make more money — and job-hopping often provides that.

Recently, employees have seen an 8-11% wage increase for job-hopping. This is sizable compared to the traditional 3-5% raises that companies traditionally give their employees for staying.

As we rebuild our economy in the wake of COVID-19, unemployment is high, the war for talent has waned, and so financial incentives may be less drastic. However, as competition grows once again, this principle will endure.

5. We do on an individual level what companies do on a corporate level.
I have to laugh a bit sometimes when companies are flabbergasted when their young employees job-hop to leverage higher pay, better titles, more experience, better opportunities, etc. I always want to ask them Does your company send out requests for proposals, negotiate with vendors, leverage competing offers and such to get better deals, save money, make money and better position your company for the future?

Is it so crazy that employees might employ some of the very same strategies to better position their own careers, finances, and future?

“I am convinced that strategic job changes have advanced my career by at least 20 years. Even though I’m in my mid-30s, I am now where I could have expected to retire had I stayed in my original position.”  – Will M.

Are your young employees doing anything that you as a company wouldn’t do to advance your future? The jobs we leave and the jobs we take serve to meet our needs, advance our goals, and position us for greater success. This is very much in line with what economist Adam Smith calls a “rational self-interest” — which actually drives our economy. We leave jobs and take jobs to meet our needs — just like companies hire and fire to meet their company needs.

Millennials are deeply values-driven, and we will not hesitate to take a risk and bet on ourselves. Plus, we live in a time when job-hopping has been normalized and made easy for us.

Every year our friends ask us Hey, are you still working at ___? We see job postings everywhere. Recruiters are waiving the promises of a better life. Even our 401(k) and 403(b) plans are portable so we don’t lose out for leaving like we would have on the pensions of before!

“The interesting thing is that it is often a self-fulfilling prophecy: those that believe in their young employees and those that don’t — they are both proved right”  – Will M

Not surprisingly, companies suffer when their employees job-hop as it costs them dearly in time, money, and lost productivity. There’s a good chance you have experienced this yourself. However, we will leave a job if we perceive that to be better for our future, but we don’t leave for the sake of leaving. If it were clear that staying would be better, we would happily stay! So help us stay.

“I am DYING to work at a company that does some form of good in the world, that I can be at for a long time, build relationships at, and grow at.”  – KP

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Engaging and retaining your employees is absolutely crucial, and requires intentional steps to adapt your culture, structure, and leadership approach. But, to do that you need to understand why they leave in the first place!

I hope that you have found new clarity about this so you can take your next steps. If you are not sure what your next steps should be, whether you’re a first-time manager or seasoned executive, shoot me an email at [email protected] and let’s talk!

Jesse Hallock is a professional leadership coach and co-founder of Arabona Coaching & Training. He joyfully lives out his calling by facilitating turning points in the lives and careers of emerging leaders. He also helps companies invest in their organizational health and future by training their managers. In addition, Jesse is a podcast guest, conference speaker, magazine contributor, and panel moderator. For more information, please call 224-999-0020, email [email protected], or visit
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