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Do your employees choose data protection or productivity?

Larry Ponemon | June 3, 2013
Younger generations, millennials specifically, are more likely to be privacy complacent, choosing productivity over data security.

Imagine this situation.

It's the day before an important presentation at a large corporation's annual global earnings conference. In the airport, the national sales manager receives last minute feedback and begins to edit the document on a laptop when a stranger takes the next seat. The presentation, which contains proprietary information on important company financials, is now in plain sight of wandering eyes. The national sales manager is faced with a critical decision: continue working to finish the changes or stop altogether to safeguard the company data.

While every CSO would hope the employee would choose to protect the confidential information, the reality is that many would not. So how does a CSO identify the weak links in the organization and prevent cybercriminals from gaining enterprise data through spear phishing and other low-tech methods like snooping?

[The 7 elements of a successful security awareness program]

Ponemon Institute recently explored this topic in the Visual Privacy Productivity Study. Employees at five companies were asked to participate in a survey. After being set up at a computer, the employees were told the survey was going to be delayed for 30 minutes and they had the choice to get some work done or take a break. Half of the employees' computers were also installed with a 3M privacy filter to measure whether visual privacy protection helped to increase productivity. The study did in fact find that employees whose visual security was protected with a privacy filter were twice as productive than those without a privacy filter. However, of those employees not equipped with a privacy filter, it also revealed the potential weak links in an organization that choose productivity over privacy.

Millennials choose productivity

The Visual Privacy Productivity Study found a stark difference in privacy orientation between generations, with older employees stating that privacy is either important or very important at a higher rate than their younger colleagues (65 percent of employees over 55 compared to 52 percent for millennials 26-35). These beliefs translated into outputs: older employees that didn't feel the data on their device screen was adequately protected worked less than younger employees experiencing the same level of privacy. In general --with or without privacy -- younger employees spent more time on the clock and were more productive.

Younger generations, millennials specifically, are more likely to be privacy complacent, choosing productivity over data security. This is a group that grew up with technology in hand -- they aren't afraid of it and even rely on technology to get through the day. Tangible data -- a manila folder containing papers with numbers and figures -- is a foreign concept, making it easier for millennials to access a file remotely without thinking twice about taking the necessary steps to secure it. Younger employees also feel pressure to produce more and prove themselves in an economy where the job market remains tight, leading them to cut corners in terms of data security in favor of productivity.


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