Millennials and the Death of Job Loyalty: Why do we leave?

Dr. Ciera Graham
5 min readJan 24, 2023

“People don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses” is often a common statement used to explain employee attrition and retention. This statement became increasingly relevant during the start of The Great Resignation- when people across multiple industries left their jobs in large numbers, in search of new and more fulfilling opportunities. The COVID-19 pandemic afforded time for career reflection — and with the world around us slowing down tremendously for the first time in our lifetime — many of us were forced to contend with the reality that being constantly busy and overconsumed by work is not a healthy or satisfying way to live life.

As a millennial, I have always had pride in cultivating career security. I have pursued careers that gave me a sense of stability, a reliable and consistent paycheck and great benefits. I always chose roles that were in demand so I never once worried that my career or job wouldn’t withstand inevitable market or economy shifts or downturns. I also value the freedom I have to change careers or jobs if needed. Being a talented employee with options and the freedom to make them is really adulting goals. I recognized early on that my ability to ascend to a comfortable middle-class lifestyle was directly predicated on my willingness and bravery to leave jobs that were no longer serving me, personally, professionally and financially.

For previous generations, career paths were linear and staying in one job until retirement was a sign of loyalty. For Baby Boomers, the idea of switching multiple jobs and careers during one’s lifespan was too “risky.” Many Boomers believed that if you work hard and remain loyal to one employer, it will lead to increased reward and upward mobility.

Studies show that on average, a person will change jobs every 2–3 years. With inflation, and the ever-fleeting reality of securing a middle-class life — changing jobs and careers has become a natural part of our lives. It’s as natural and common as waking up every morning and brushing your teeth. Millennials and Gen Zers understand that their loyalty to any company comes with a price tag — we simply are not willing to be sacrificial lambs for our employers. Employers gain our loyalty by ensuring a healthy work culture, a competitive salary with great benefits, flexibility, and a reasonable workload. We are not afraid to make brave decisions regarding our longevity within a given organization if employers are not meeting our basic needs.

Millennials and Gen Zers often get a bad reputation for not being loyal, or not understanding the value of hard work. Cue Kim Kardashian’s infamous statement, “it seems like people just don’t want to work anymore.” This is far from the truth. Millennials and Gen Zers are navigating increasingly more debt but are noticeably more educated and credentialed than previous generations. Studies show that millennials work increasingly more hours than previous generations and carry more unreasonable workloads. When America makes statements about the lack of loyalty or work ethic seen from the current generation, we fail to realize they have a different set of barriers and obstacles that make career loyalty increasingly more difficult. The idea that millennials do not want to work anymore is ludicrous when data shows that they are working harder and longer than previous generations. I, for one, would give up one of my organs in order to find a job that didn’t have me working countless hours, after 5pm without any additional compensation.

It’s asinine to believe that anyone, regardless of their age, job title or industry, would stay in a job being overworked, mistreated and underpaid, when their skillset and education far exceeds their current pay. This is in direct contradiction to the “American Dream.” With increased education and skill development, one should also gain more freedom to choose their career paths. Millennials and Gen Zers also have less obstacles to navigate when making career changes — with the decrease in childbearing rates, and their conscious decision to delay marriage — it’s much easier to leave a job as you don’t have to consider the impact a job loss or change has on other people. Choosing to take a career break, opting to work non-standard hours or move to another state for another job opportunity becomes much easier to do when you have less people to think about.

As a very ambitious millennial, I am also finding that the meaning of work is changing. I followed the traditional path of securing as much formal education as possible in hopes that this would lead to higher paying job and a senior level position. I became obsessed with upward mobility, and every job was always a short term stop along a much bigger career path. I soon realized that with increased upward mobility, became a decreased quality of life. We spend a lot of time at work — so it’s imperative that you enjoy your career — but it was also important for me to accept that my career didn’t need to define the totality of my being and existence. It’s quite dangerous to become so career obsessed because your identity and self-worth becomes tied to something that is external to yourself. When you attach your sense of worth and purpose to capitalism and production, you begin to lose interest in activities that are not directly tied to the overexertion of your time and effort. I found myself not enjoying downtime or rest time, or activities outside of work because I was so obsessed with working, constantly.

Over the past couple years — like many millennials and Gen Zers, I have been evaluating the meaning of work in my life. After deep reflection, and a few come to Jesus’ moments, I have realized that it’s not upward mobility that I desire. I just want a job that allows me to make good money and affords some sense of work life balance. This translates into a reasonable workload and being able to also cultivate a personal life outside of work that makes me happy and whole. It’s quite powerful and affirming to resist being a product of the pervasive and ever so destructive culture that is capitalism. Living to work is oppressive, and the idea that we must surrender our sense of self, time and energy to work is degrading and frankly inhumane.

Making career changes is risky, and even though we are increasingly more motivated to do so than previous generations — it doesn’t change the fact that these decisions are challenging and may involve trepidation. We really need to refrain from making uneducated and bias assumptions about the choices millennials make for their careers. Career decisions are indeed personal choices, but have become increasingly political over the years as many people attempt to rationalize the huge attrition witnessed in their organizations, especially among their younger workforce. Some employers have manufactured fallacies about why employees are leaving. These fallacies and assumptions prevent company leaders from facing the reality that they are indeed complicit in the culture that leads to employee attrition. The idea that employee loyalty is something that must be readily given without the intentional investment and care for the employee is ridiculous. Employers need to get back to seeing the humanity in people — instead of viewing them as soulless production machines. When leaders recognize the humanity in their workforce, they will be better equipped at retaining them.



Dr. Ciera Graham

I’m a writer and higher education administrator. A doctor of sociology with a love for writing topics on race, intersectionality, and women’s career issues.