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Andy Price

Sift Media

Technology Editor

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Generation Y can cause headaches for HR so is it time for a new approach?


Generation Y – the young, (born between the late 70s and mid 90s), the over-expectant, some say. But one aspect that’s generally agreed upon is that they’re tech-savvy.

However, new research is showing that this perception may only be applicable to their own ‘personal brand’.

Security company ESET has said that Gen Y’s lax attitude towards cyber security in the workplace is leaving organisations exposed to attacks and data leaks.

The research showed that 38% of those aged 18 to 30 years old, were unaware of, or don’t believe that their company has an IT security policy.

A further 30% of those who were aware of the IT security policy did not know what it was, and half also believed it was nearly always their organisation’s sole responsibility to ensure the safety of data.

The conclusion to the research is that IT departments need to communicate IT strategies more efficiently.

“Young professionals are the most tech savvy when it comes to personal brand,” said Mark James, technical director of ESET UK.

“Yet when it comes to transferring that same shrewdness to their business lives, they are arguably some of the most unreliable.”

A HR issue?

However, despite the report being focused towards IT, the activities of the Generation Y, or millennial generation, are a wider company concern and so these changes become a potential HR issue.

There could also be a wider problem with company perception – perhaps the work atmosphere leads employees to not care enough to follow policy or take care of data. Are those that are ‘unaware’ simply indifferent?

James acknowledges this could be the case when HRZone spoke to him about the research: “Beyond amending IT strategies, a positive work atmosphere is also key in encouraging a receptive mood among employees towards security policies.

“Staff who feel they are respected and in turn have admiration and pride for their workplace and fellow employees are likely to be more open to the fact that they themselves are a vital component of the security solution.”

Generation Y and communication

Another characteristic of the millennials categorisation is their approach to communication and this is partially what the research picks up on.

Many of the figures presented in the research discuss plenty of scenarios were Gen Y employees were ‘unaware’ of certain strategies or approach due to a lack of communication.

However, last year’s Cisco Connected World Technology Report said that 53% of IT professionals trusted employees to follow the corporate rules when it comes to technology.

But it continued, showing 77% of 18-30 year olds were ignoring these IT policies.

While this backs up the ESET report, the Cisco research goes further and calls for a balance between security needs with the habits of the next generation as opposed to better communication of existing strategies, though James did note that IT teams needed to “engage with younger employees.”

“Generation Y workers are stretching and blending the boundaries of work, family and social life,” said Ian Foddering, CTO and technical director for Cisco UK, at the time.

Social communication channels

Less discussed in either report are the out-moded communication channels often employed by a company.

The reality is Gen Y professionals are more likely to seek communication from different channels.

However, the ‘balance’ that is eluded to is almost certainly going to require a technological solution.

But it will also require a relationship between IT and HR. James, again: “[They] need to liaise to ensure that people have appropriate training and system privilege levels as they enter the organisation and change roles, and to ensure that they don’t retain inappropriate access once they leave”

Some companies already use technology to enhance internal communication. Social communications channels maintain steady growth and platforms range from Saleforce’s Chatter platform to IBM Connections or even Yammer, a start-up that worked on the freemium model, but was eventually acquired by Microsoft in 2012.

A huge chunk of the social approach in these solutions takes direct inspiration from consumer social platforms and repurposes them for a business environment.

The arguments against this approach have good groundings.

It’s often questioned in its usefulness. Is it distracting? Is it encouraging non-work related discussion? But that would be misunderstanding the benefit – which is to give employees a familiar platform to transfer their everyday creativity outside of work seamlessly for the benefit of the business.

Even with those concerns waylaid, a company simply may not want to, or be in a position to re-organise or restructure its communication methods due to just one group of workers. As a result these projects tend to suffer from poor change management, if they get off the ground at all.

However, the argument itself is fast becoming redundant.

Modernising communication

Generation Y is predicted to make up 75% of the workplace by 2025 eventually providing a pathway to the next generation.

To stay competitive companies at some point will need to choose when to progress. However, trepidation due to the risk of leaving workers behind may not have to be an issue either – older professionals are actually active users and shapers of technology, not Luddites and should not be under-estimated.

It’s easy to forget that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak – the pioneers of modern technology – were all bonafide US baby boomers, but in no way fit the obvious stereotypes.

The company that accepts an evolving communication strategy could be the one that sees benefits fastest and if that’s the approach that’s chosen, the HR department will need to have a hand in its development to provide and evolve the most beneficial business environment which is accessible for all.

While many HR departments, and managers continue to explore the best way to communicate to generation Y, the millennials are showing their adaptability, and their agility through their own forms of communication – and with this group of employees growing, it may only be a matter of time before companies will be forced to embrace the technology being used by the growth generation.

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Andy Price

Technology Editor

Read more from Andy Price

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