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Generation Y
Talent Development

Why They Quit: XYZ University Researches Millennial Turnover

Millennials are notorious for job-hopping. These young adults, ages 21-34 and also known as Generation Y, change jobs three times more often than other generations. In fact, 48% of Millennials are planning to leave their jobs within the next 24 months.

Millennials are notorious for job-hopping.

These young adults, ages 21-34 and also known as Generation Y, change jobs three times more often than other generations. In fact, 48% of Millennials are planning to leave their jobs within the next 24 months.

Employee turnover is now costing U.S. companies an estimated $30.5 billion per year. (Yes, that’s billion with a b.)

But why? What’s causing these high rates of employee turnover and what can employers do to reduce it?

As the saying goes, denial isn’t a river in Egypt. The inability to retain Millennials is crippling our collective bottom line, yet many employers are shoulder-shrugging and passing blame. At XYZ University, we’ve heard every possible excuse for why employers can’t keep their Millennial talent, such as:

  • It’s youth rebellion. (“No worries! Job-hopping is something they will eventually outgrow.”)
  • It’s a character flaw. (“Those Millennials are such an entitled, needy, difficult-to-please generation! They have no work ethic.”)
  • It’s a culture problem. (“We just need to add more perks, like nap rooms and Bring Your Dog to Work Day.”)

Could a $30.5 billion loss really be chalked up to youth rebellion? We weren’t convinced. We wanted to hear from the Millennials themselves to better understand their reasons for being three times more likely to quit a company.

For the past three months XYZ University surveyed and interviewed more than 500 Millennials in 45 states–and it turns out none of the bulletpoints listed above are accurate descriptions of why Millennial turnover is happening.

Yes, job turnover was previously associated with youth. Since the 1980’s, the trend has been for young adults to change jobs frequently.

However, according to XYZ U’s research, the job-hopping behaviors of the Millennial generation aren’t reliant on age alone. Rather, their expectations of work have been influenced by the social change prevalent during their childhood and adolescence.

Consider that Millennials are the first generation of the Post-Industrial Era, raised in a world driven by technology and globalization. They came of age during the worst economic decline our country had experienced in 70 years, and they are the best-educated and the most protected and supervised generation in history.

All of these social shifts have influenced this generation’s career trajectory. The Millennials are a changed generation, and the research clearly indicates that as a workforce, Millennials are seeking to fulfill different needs from their employment experiences.

XYZ University’s research paper, Why They Quit, cites 10 reasons Millennials quit their jobs. To sum it up, Millennials have spent more time than other generations exploring careers and opportunities for advancement because:

  • They are searching for jobs that tap into their values for education and collaboration; and
  • They are still reeling from the recession, desperately seeking jobs that will allow them to support themselves financially.

The bottom line: Increased turnover is the outcome of a shift in workforce needs and values; a shift that is here to stay.

Turnover is not just some rebellious stage the Millennials will soon outgrow, and it’s not something that will be resolved exclusively by a switch-up in culture. (Trust me, Bring Your Dog to Work Day isn’t going to curb the employee turnover epidemic.)

I urge you to read the research to gain a better understanding of why turnover is happening and how to fix it.

It’s time to stop making excuses. Accept that if your organization can’t keep it’s young talent, there’s a reason why, and it likely has little to do with their age and more to do with your company’s inability to meet their needs.

Simply put, create a place where Millennials can learn and grow and turnover will decrease. Ignore the situation, will it away, and employee turnover will continue to be the billion-dollar elephant in the room squashing everyone’s potential.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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