Don't assume that a Gen Y, or Millennial, employee will fit straight into your workplace culture.

Motivation is an issue for younger and older workers.

How long can you do the same job before boredom sets in and your performance wanes? And what is the optimal time to change jobs or employers, to stay fresh and strengthen your resume?

There are two extremes on this issue: Gen-Y or “millennia” employees who, anecdotally, are changing jobs every 12 to 18 months and frustrating employers who wish they would stay longer; and older workers who do the same job for years and become jaded and sick of their employer.

How many companies ask if employees are engaged and motivated, or desperately in need of change? 

What of small business owners who do the same tasks, often with the same people, for years for even decades? For example, the coffee shop owner who mastered the job within a few months of starting it, follows the same routine every day, and is bored out of their brain.

What’s your view?

  • How long have you been in the same job?
  • Has boredom set in, and if so when?
  • What is the ideal time in a job: One year, two years, four years?
  • Do companies do enough to rotate staff and change things?

I considered this issue after The Sunday Age’s excellent piece ‘Decoding Millenial Mystery’ . One young person said her generation was criticised for job-hopping, yet at the same time encouraged by parents, teachers and counsellors to try lot of things.

Others bemoaned the lack of imagination in big companies with graduate roles. Often, the bright young graduate is rotated through different departments before being assigned to a more permanent role. Before long, some graduates leave because the role quickly bores them.

I’m on the side of Gen-Y. Good on them for trying lots of roles before settling on one. They will be far more creative, innovative and adaptive than previous generations that stuck with the same role, or variations of it, for years. If managed well, they will be incredible assets for firms.

Employers need to rethink how they motivate and engage young workers. I teach hundreds of teenagers and twenty-somethings at university each year who are incredibly bright and talented. I cannot imagine many of them willingly sitting in a cubicle in a bland office for one year, let alone 10 or 20. Attention spans seem to shorten by the semester.

Granted, their role will change as they take on more responsibility and perhaps manage staff. But it is clear that many young workers want different job experiences, often across functions or even industries – not slight variations on the role they studied for.

If companies better understood the potential, they would work harder to move young workers throughout the organisation, and not only during graduate programs. Some do, of course. But too many companies still pigeonhole young staff in their silly military-like command-and-control structure.

The same applies to older workers. How many companies ask if employees are engaged and motivated, or desperately in need of change? Performance reviews, organisational surveys and even informal chats with managers ultimately go nowhere. The company is afraid to move staff and potentially disrupt others, or the employee needs a push to take a career risk.

So the older ones do the same function for years on end, viewing their job as a prison sentence. Talented, motivated workers eventually become mediocre and change-resistant because they and their employer persisted with the same role for too long.

The issue of role longevity will surely become a bigger issue this decade. As companies strive to be more creative and adaptive, they will need employees capable of taking on different roles and joining the dots across the organisation, to innovate.

Yet the very people who will be capable of profound innovation – young workers in the coming decade – are leaving organisations because their roles quickly become staid.

Also, universities mostly train young people for a single profession when the reality is many want to work across professions and sectors – or are not even close to making their mind up. They need skills that are portable across jobs and industries like never before. But are they getting them?

I’ve always thought four years is the ideal length for a job. One year to learn it, another to master it, a third year to kick the job’s butt, and the fourth year to find a new job or employer and leave on a high. For younger generations, four years might be more like 14 months.

The good news is that more companies are making a genuine effort to meet the needs of young graduates. The bad news is that most are not even close to solving the problem, and grasping the opportunity.