The kids are alright

February 4, 2010, 3:00 PM UTC

How millennials are altering the IT landscape, mostly for the better.

By Gary Curtis, chief technology strategist, Accenture

Curtis: Ignore Gen Y at your peril. Photo: Accenture.

For a new generation of employees, information technology is no longer a question (“is this okay with you, boss?”) but rather an answer (“that’s what it took to get the job done”).

As the baby boomers begin to retire over the next decade, millennials – those ages 14 to 27 – will become increasingly prominent in the workplace as employees, customers, partners and competitors, and Gen Y can’t and won’t be ignored.

Organizations that fail to understand and embrace millennial behavior will face problems recruiting and retaining young people and gaining the competitive edge they can provide because of their intimacy with and expertise in using the latest technologies.

We’re not just talking about American millennials. New Accenture research shows milliennials around the globe are tuned into technology in their personal lives and in the workplace.

  • The next new thing rules: Millennials in the 13 countries surveyed (Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, United Kingdom, and the United States) are all profuse adopters of new technology, those in the Americas and Asia-Pacific have more positive perceptions of technology than European millennials.  Technology features most prominently in millennials’ employer decisions in India (72%), the U.S. (52%) and China (45%).
  • Online forever. Chinese millennials in particular spend an extraordinary amount of time in the virtual world for both business and personal purposes – an average of 34 working hours a week compared with less than 11 hours for the rest of the world.
  • Lack of workplace access in Europe. A large share of young people in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy believe that technology consumes too much time.  This negative perception may result from a lack of access to effective technology; only 18% to  21% of millennials in these countries say they have access to the right technologies in the workplace, compared to 66% in the Americas and 54% in Asia Pacific.
  • See you on Facebook.  One in two millennials globally – and almost four in five in China and India – use social networking to investigate employers, superiors, clients and service providers.  They also regularly download free, nonstandard technology from open source communities, including “mashup” and “widget” providers.  Globally, about half have accessed online collaborative tools, online applications and open source technologies from free public websites when those technologies are not available at work or when the versions offered at work don’t meet their expectations.

When it comes to adopting new technologies, national borders are largely irrelevant.  Millennials expect to use their own technology and devices rather than those supplied by their employers – almost half expect not only to use the computer of their choice on the job, but also to access their preferred mobile technology and software applications. E-mail usage is becoming a thing of the past. While older millennials still spend an average of 6.8 hours per week writing or receiving work-related e-mails, those millennials already in the workforce say they spend just 4.2 hours a week on e-mail, preferring text or instant messaging.

Similarly, a staggering 45% of employed millennials globally use social networking sites at work – whether permitted or not. The same trend applies to corporate IT policies. Whether from lack of awareness or blatant disdain, 66% of millennials globally don’t abide by corporate policies. Additionally

  • Nearly a third – 29% –  claim they don’t know if their company has such a policy;
  • Some 17%  claim their employer has not published such a policy;
  • About 11% say that whatever policy their company has published is too complex to understand;  and  9% say they will post work or client information on public sites regardless of any policy, at least when communicating with colleagues;

Policy? What policy?

In many cases, millennials are doing more than just expressing disappointment with their employers’ lack of leading-edge technology; they are bypassing corporate policy to install and use external devices and applications that are more to their liking. Consider that 39% of working millennials globally say they use mobile phones that are not supported by their employer for work-related activities. The percentages are high as well in regard to unsanctioned use of instant messaging (33%) and social networking sites (43%).

Dealing with the dynamics created by this changing demographic represents a real challenge for most companies.  On the one hand, companies must accommodate and integrate millennials to take advantage of their technology savvy. At the same time, they must continue to protect the technology and information assets of the business and prevent millennials from either finding ways around the barriers or, in their frustration, leaving for jobs elsewhere – truly a difficult balancing act.

Gary Curtis is the chief technology strategist at Accenture, a global consulting and IT services firm. He can be reached at