How A Multigenerational Workforce Impacts Corporate Security

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How Different Generations See Confidential Information

A few weeks ago, we presented a presentation to a group of security executives representing large multinational corporations and the public sector. They were curious about how the generational differences, and particularly younger employees’ perceptions, might (and are) impacting their security efforts internally.  While security of hardware and company assets is always critical, increasingly so, security breaches with data or confidential information are a concern. In a world where Wikileaks exists and confidential information is posted online, organizations need to understand how to create a culture of security where all employees have a shared accountability.

Generational Perspectives on Knowledge

Social media promotes and encourages us to share personal information publicly on a daily basis.  Gen Ys are much more comfortable posting information, thoughts, opinions and private details online than any previous generations.  This has translated into an appetite by Gen Ys for their organizations and leaders to be more transparent and open with information.

Once upon a time, only the most senior people in an organization had access to critical information (financials, policies, client data etc).  Knowledge was perceived as ‘power’.  In many organizations, this mindset still exists.  The more information you have, the more powerful you are.  This is based on information being scarce and access being exclusive to only a few.  Many Traditionalists and Baby Boomers experienced this type of culture in their organizations.  Information was only given out on a ‘need to know’ basis.  If it was deemed you didn’t need to know something, you wouldn’t have access to it.  You might only receive partial information – a slice of the data – without the big picture. This meant that the knowledge holders could control how information was disseminated.

Gen Xers and particularly Gen Ys, don’t ascribe to this notion of knowledge as power.  They believe that it’s not possessing knowledge that makes someone powerful, but rather what they do with that information that puts them in a position of power. Younger employees expect that they will have access to information about your organization that was once reserved only for senior leaders.  For example, leaders are now much more transparent about financials, strategies, market challenges, new ventures and leadership decision than ever before.  This is viewed as favourable by younger employees.  The challenge lies in ensuring that confidential information is not shared by employees in an inappropriate way.

Engaging All to Create a Culture of Security

The security executives we worked with recognized that layering on a generational perspective to their work required that they understand how to engage the different generations.  Engaging all employees translates into an environment where a culture of security becomes everyone’s responsibility.

Coaching all employees on what is deemed confidential, why the information should not be shared, and what the consequences are if the information is communicated in the wrong way, is important for creating a consistent approach to information security.

Each generation may define ‘confidential’ differently.  As one Gen Y from the public sector (who has shared some confidential information publicly) said to us ‘I am aware of what the consequences are, but I believe it is my duty and responsibility to share this information’. This perspective is concerning to many leaders who struggle with balancing access to information and how that information is shared.  The ability to Tweet, post or Instagram a document has increased the risk of security breaches.

Ensuring your multigenerational workforce is involved in identifying potential security risks and possible solutions will help build a culture of greater resilience. Clearly communicating definitions will create a common language across the organization.

Your organization should take the time to define the terms:

  • Confidential
  • Private
  • For Internal Review Only
  • Sensitive information

Establish what the risk and consequences are of sharing information in an inappropriate way and how the organization, employees, customers and the overall brand will be negatively impacted.

While younger employees may be far more comfortable sharing private information about themselves, there is an increasing need to protect employee and customer data by preventing access to confidential information. Doing so will only be possible through the commitment of all employees and by engaging your multigenerational workforce in a way that will gain their buy-in.

Giselle Kovary

As president and co-founder of n-gen People Performance Inc., Giselle is dedicated to building strategies and programs that help clients target, motivate and engage employees in order to increase performance and productivity. She is a sought after resource to industry leaders, having worked with 18 of the top Fortune 500 companies across North America. Over 60,000 people globally have experienced an n-gen workshop or presentation. With close to 20 years of experience in learning and development, she has devoted more than 13 years to researching the impact that generational differences have on organizational performance.

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