CIOs: Learn the wireless, workaholic ways of Gen Y

Generation Y employees may not have much time for IT usage policies, but many of them spend long periods outside of office hours doing work on their personal or home computers, according to a national study conducted by IT World Canada and Harris/Decima.

Out of more than 1,000 individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 who were surveyed, 23 per cent said they spend at least an hour a day in some work-related activity on a home computer, while 12 per cent said they spend two to five hours. That’s on top of the six to 10 hours 52 per cent of respondents said they using computers at work for work-related purposes. The numbers were revealed as part of Freedom to Compute: The Empowerment of Generation Y, which explores the generation gap around IT and includes comments from both the CIO and CEO communities.

To Matt Elliot, a 25-year-old who runs a blog called, the statistics make sense. He said CIOs and other business managers have misconceptions about what “work” means to Generation Y. Although social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter can be purely recreational activities, they can also be a part of communicating between colleagues and contacts.

“It isn’t as simple as saying this whole (older) generation doesn’t understand the use,” he said. “The problem is to an older generation this use of Facebook, for example, seems entirely frivolous and not related to work and they don’t see why you would be doing this when you’re in their office.”

Lise Dellazizzo, vice-president at Harris/Decima, said the generation gap around IT may be compounded by the need for corporate enterprises to maximize their resources, particularly during an economic crisis.

“In order to empower these individuals we have to first be willing to change,” she said. “For CIOs that means a willingness to deviate from the status quo, to lessen focus on resorting to control-based mechanisms as a means of containment and to be less risk averse while more efficient with managing risk.”

Unfortunately, that’s not often what happens, according to the report. A total of 39 per cent of Gen Y workers said employers place too many restrictions on employees in terms of not allowing them to download applications and programs, and 34 per cent said there were too many restrictions that made it impossible for them to use their computing skills.

“Since management looks for the simple way to deal with things, they’d rather a simple kind of solution, so they block (programs or applications) at the server level,” Elliot said. “Yet these are things that in many cases bring people together and encourage communication. It’s like the traditional talking around the water-cooler, but you don’t see not having a water-cooler as improving productivity.”

The report also confirmed the high degree of mobility and comfort level with trying out new software among Generation Y. More than one third of those surveyed, 36 per cent, said they will be using one device for both personal and business activities over the next five years, while 62 per cent said they have downloaded applications for work-related purposes. Dellazizzo said this should help educate CIOs about the kind of users with which they’ll be dealing.

“They are highly connected and increasingly global – which means that ‘9 to 5’ is a notion of the past,” she said. “Inhibiting this generation from using their skills to their fullest capacity is reducing our productivity and enforcing a false parameter of activity that ends abruptly at the office door.”

This was backed up by research in the report around retention and hiring. While not as important to Gen Y as salaries and other benefits, 26 per cent said an “open computing environment” is either extremely or very important to them in choosing an employer.

Tomorrow: What the ideal Gen Y IT environment would look like

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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