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Why Our Adult Children Are Job Hoppers

Unrealistic expectations could be part of the problem

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Leaping for new job prospects before settling comfortably in current ones
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By April 15, many of our adult children achieved at least one marker of adulthood — filing a tax return. But if they're like many of their contemporaries, they may not be employed at the same place when the next tax season rolls around.

More than two-thirds of young professionals expect to quit their current job by 2020, according to Deloitte's 2016 Millennial Survey. They say they'll leave in search of companies whose goals fit better with their own. But millennial workforce expert J.T. O'Donnell, founder of, says their reasons often go beyond that.

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O'Donnell believes millennials are searching for new positions out of frustration based on unrealistic expectations about the nature of work — and she blames their upbringing. "They've been supported by parents who believed their children could be anything they wanted to be and were happy to get them coaching to achieve that," she says. "They come into the working world thinking 'I can take on anything' and then are faced with the reality that there are millions their age with the same degree. Turns out they're not so different and not so special."

The result: Young employees who experience difficulty and criticism, perhaps for the first time, often blame the boss or the business environment rather than admit that their expectations were unrealistic. "Many would rather move than work it through," O'Donnell says. Because many millennials live at home until their mid-20s, jumping jobs is easier because of their parental safety net.

To be fair, there are other reasons, too. Some millennials are still searching for a good career match, something previous generations also experienced in their 20s. Many don't believe in loyalty to one company because they saw their parents downsized after decades at the same place. They're also finding new opportunities, with technology constantly creating jobs that didn't exist even a few years ago. Finally, sometimes companies in "glamour" industries such as tech, media and fashion exploit them. "They are lured by these sexy companies with lots of perks but low pay, long hours," O'Donnell says. "Then they get burned out and leave. The companies don't worry because there's a steady supply of millennials who will take those jobs."

Still, one of the main reasons our adult children leave jobs is because they don't think they're getting promoted quickly enough. O'Donnell points out a few reasons why they may get stuck at an entry level:

  • Watching the clock. Millennials are used to overscheduled lives with school, activities and social events. They want to continue that lifestyle, so they expect work to end at a certain time. "They'll leave even if a project is not completed and are like a deer in the headlights when confronted."
  • Desire for praise. They want a pat on the back for a job well done. "Praise is given in the form of a paycheck, and they don't understand that."
  • Expecting an equal voice. Many assume that management will value their opinion. Often they'll point out problems but make no suggestions for a solution. "When you have no experience, a company doesn't appreciate that attitude."
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None of these, however, are fatal flaws. O'Donnell says many young workers have grit and the determination to succeed. With an attitude adjustment (and putting in longer hours), they can expect an easier climb up the career ladder.

Mary W. Quigley, a journalist and author, has written two books about motherhood and work. An NYU journalism professor, she is the mother of three adult children and blogs at

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