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Accenture global research on Millennials’ use of technology
Leaping the Firewall
The Millennial generation is rocking the foundation of information technology in the workplace. Having practically nursed via personal computers and mobile phones, they don’t see bright lines between work and personal, virtual and physical, sanctioned and prohibited. It’s not “would you approve this, boss?” but “whatever gets the job done”.
In fact, boss, Millennials are likely ignoring or violating your IT policies right and left, using non-standard applications and improvising where they think it makes sense. They’re interacting with customers, vendors, and partners in new ways through new channels. As the Baby Boom generation retires over the next two decades, Millennials will be increasingly prominent both in absolute and relative terms, as employees, customers, partners, and competitors. This demographic shift can be either frightening or exhilarating – maybe a bit of both. But it can’t be ignored.
New Accenture research on how Millennials use IT across the globe follows our survey a year ago in the United States. For the new research, we surveyed 5,595 employees and students, ages 14-27, in 13 countries: Brazil, Canada, and the United States in the Americas; Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom in Europe; Australia, China, India, and Japan in Asia-Pacific.
In some respects, Millennials conform to the “global citizens” archetype of shared tastes and cultural touchstones. The Web can quickly spread familiarity with a hot new band or amateur video clip. (You have seen the video of inmates at the Cebu, Philippines prison dancing to “Thriller,” right?) Millennials in every country are profuse adopters of new technologies, and even the least profuse adopters, such as Italians, are very willing to wander outside the IT boundaries prescribed by employers.
But global citizens still retain local flavor. In many aspects of IT behavior and attitudes, our survey reveals regional variations that have important implications for CIOs and other executives. For example:
For one thing, it’s clear that Millennials’ wandering spirit cannot be controlled; yet how can managers reconcile that with very real concerns about IT security and regulatory compliance? In addition, Millennials may be comfortable juggling in-person and digital interactions, but how should companies handle what some studies claim are the distractions and unfocused thinking that accompany extreme multi-tasking? Can teams of Millennials and older workers collaborate effectively?
Differing country attitudes and technology adoption rates will likely require tailored strategies for recruiting, motivating, and fostering collaboration between generations and across national borders. How can companies organize effectively to implement these strategies?
Finally, our research reveals a new edge to the rise of companies based in China, India, and even Brazil. These companies are full of quite tech-savvy young employees, and leadership teams there have been more aggressive in using emerging technologies to communicate with employees. If Western and Japanese executives think that these firms are tough competitors now, look for an even more daunting battle in coming years, given the proclivity for technology among the younger generation in those countries.
For business leaders who can make headway now in solving these challenges, there is an opportunity to make a step change in talent management, productivity, innovation, and competitive positioning.
A year ago, Accenture’s research of U.S. Millennials found several important trends:
This research report confirms that those trends continue, but now shows a far more nuanced landscape. The report summarizes the important similarities and variations.
Millennials want to choose what technologies they use, especially in emerging markets. Globally, almost one in two mid-Millennials in school (ages 18-22) expect not only to use the computer of their choice once they are on the job, but also to access their preferred mobile and technology applications. By contrast, only one in four want the employer to choose these technologies, and one in four remain uncertain.
This sentiment is even stronger in Brazil, India and China. Indeed, in India, only 6 percent of mid- Millennials expect to use only corporate applications at work.
Millennials in Europe, by contrast – specifically Belgium, France, and the Netherlands – are less insistent about using their own technology. They either prefer to use the technologies chosen by their employers, or have lower expectations.
This has significant import for managers, because Millennials increasingly choose their employer based on access to leading technology. Some 37 percent of Millennials (ages 18-27) globally say that stateof- the-art technology is a vital consideration in selecting an employer. Technology features most prominently in Millennials’ employer decisions in India, the United States, and China – at 72 percent, 52 percent, and 45 percent, respectively (Figure 2).
Countries in which leading technology matters less are Italy at 18 percent, Japan at 22 percent, France at 26 percent, Belgium at 27 percent, and Germany at 28 percent.
Email on the Wane
Communication is shifting away from email toward instant alternatives.
While older Millennials (ages 23- 27) globally still spend an average of 6.8 hours a week writing or receiving work-related emails, mid-Millennials already in the workforce spend just 4.2 hours a week on email. Among that group, real-time alternatives are gaining ground, such as text messaging via mobile phone (3 hours) or instant messaging (3.2 hours). The trend is even more pronounced among high school and young college students.
Asia-Pacific Millennials lead the pack here as well: They spend the most time, and the highest share of time, on real-time communications technologies like instant messaging. That’s true despite the fact that Europeans spend more time working on the road. Some 18 percent of Millennials in France and the Netherlands spend more than half their working week on the road, compared to only 6 percent of Chinese and 3 percent of Indian Millennials.
Asia-Pacific, on the other hand, is where most home working occurs, with 14 percent of respondents in Japan and 10 percent in India spending more than half their week at home. (Overall, roughly one in five working Millennials spend more than half of their work week on the road or working at home.)
Perhaps because they are so mobile, 10 percent of working Millennials tell us that their employers already communicate with them through online chat and mobile texting. But twice as many (20 percent) would prefer that employers communicate with them more through online chat and mobile texting and less in person, via email, or by phone.
China and India lead the pack in emerging methods of employee communication: 27 percent of employers in China already use online chat and 20 percent use mobile texting to communicate with employees.
When do they sleep in China?
More broadly, Millennials in China, India, and Brazil lead the world in use of emerging technologies for work purposes, while most European countries and Japan are lagging.
Young Chinese employees, in particular, are pushing the boundaries of multi-tasking. While the time spent on email is similar to their U.S. counterparts, the Chinese outpace the rest of the world in using realtime communication tools. Working respondents ages 18-27 in China tell us that, during an average week, they spend 9.2 hours on email, 9.2 hours on instant messaging, 6 hours texting, 3.3 hours in a blog or tweet, 3 hours in a virtual community, and 2.9 hours on a social network site – a total of 33.6 hours per week (Figure 3).
Dude, That’s so Yesterday
When it comes to employer-provided technology, Millennials are more disappointed with the quality of emerging technologies that their employers provide than with the provided traditional technologies. Globally, more than one-quarter of Millennials express disappointment with the employer-provided technology they use (Figures 4a, 4b, and 4c). Enterprise wikis and online collaboration tools (both at 35 percent) were the most criticized.
Respondents in Italy, China, and India have the most complaints: Between 25 and 57 percent of Millennials in those countries complain that nine of the 13 surveyed corporate technologies do not meet their expectations.
Respondents in Brazil and the United States, by contrast, have the fewest complaints, either because expectations are lower in these countries, application performance is better, or a combination of the two.
Of all the technologies mentioned, social network sites have the greatest usage unsupported by the employer, with over 40 percent using social networks in nine of the 12 countries. Countries that have the highest technology usage and expectations, such as India and China, use fewer unsanctioned technologies, largely because they receive more employer support of emerging technologies.
Ask Forgiveness, not Permission
Millennials routinely bypass corporate approval when using devices and applications. For example, a staggering 45 percent of employed Millennials globally use social networking sites at work, whether prohibited or not. Only 32 percent say that the social networks they use are supported by their IT department and meet their expectations. The majority of underserved or unsatisfied Millennials are accessing social networks from a free website.
Rates of using a mobile phone for work are higher in India and China – 91 percent and 88 percent, respectively – than in the United States, at 58 percent. But employers support more types of mobile devices; in those countries, only 17 percent and 21 percent, respectively, of Millennials who use a mobile phone for work activities say their employer does not support the phone. By contrast, more than half of U.S. Millennials say their mobile phone of choice is not supported.
Millennials also regularly download free, nonstandard technology from open source communities, including “mashup” and “widget” providers. Globally, about one-half of Millennials 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 Millennials’ expectations (Figure 4c).
Respondents in India and the Netherlands constitute the most active downloaders of open source technologies, at 61 percent and 77 percent, respectively. As for online applications from free sites, the most active downloaders can be found in the Netherlands at 85 percent, Italy at 66 percent, and the United States at 64 percent.
The same trend applies to corporate IT policies. Whether from lack of awareness or deliberate disdain, 66 percent of Millennials globally don’t abide by such policies:
Where’s Waldo? Find out on Facebook
Related to IT security, Millennials sometimes have a much looser notion of online privacy than do older workers. Some 30 percent of global working Millennials write openly about themselves and friends online. The most open, as shown in Figure 5, are in China (51 percent), Germany (42 percent), Japan (37 percent) and Brazil (36 percent).
The most discreet, who say they never or rarely post information about themselves or friends online, are in India (50 percent), Canada (50 percent), and France (46 percent).
Social profiling is most common in China and India, where more than three in four Millennials use social networks more than half of the time when trying to learn more about peers or superiors. Similarly, Brazilians use social networks more extensively than their peers in other countries to investigate prospective employers, service providers, or clients.
Data Among the Youngest Suggest These Trends are here to Stay
Across the countries surveyed, young Millennials (14-17 years old) are more focused on real-time, collaborative communication. While the majority (69%) of young Millennials use email for school-related activities, they only spend an average of 0.8 hours per week doing so. They spend significantly more time texting (1.6 hours on average), instant messaging (1.5 hours on average), and on social network sites (1.3 hours on average).
Not only is this future workforce constantly plugged in, they exhibit similar comfort in sharing openly with peers online. One in three young and mid-Millennials will write about themselves and friends online.
How Management Teams can Benefit from these Shifts
The rise of Millennials presents a unique opportunity to improve performance for organizations that can integrate the social shifts and technology-based skills that Millennials bring to the business environment. To be effective, this integration requires both Millennials and management teams to learn and adapt.
Millennials’ attitudes about security, loyalty, privacy, and work style are colliding with the policies and norms at many large companies. That’s not wholly surprising, since the past decade of IT innovation, from Internet search to smart phones to social networks, has been embraced more aggressively by consumers than by companies. As a result, many Millennials are extremely fluent with state-of-the-art technology and creative workarounds.
Management teams thus have to quickly take the lead in learning and adapting. In many companies, IT governance to date has had what many Millennials consider a stifling tone – controls and checks, onesize- fits-all hardware and software. To engage Millennial workers requires finding the right balance between boundaries and freedoms, as opposed to blanket control that will increasingly send them to more flexible competitors. And the balancing point will no doubt move every year, maybe every quarter.
Several business reasons should compel leaders to take on this issue now. The first is the ongoing war for talent. As businesses return to growth mode and start hiring in substantial numbers, they will once again face intense competition for certain skills and top talent. Millennials will be the bulk of new hires over the next two decades, so conventional commandand- control cultures could be at risk in this regard.
Another reason is the central role of innovation in fostering growth. Millennials are more intimate with technology than any previous generation. Even high school interns can now add value. Companies that figure out how to tap younger workers’ tech savvy and listen to their ideas in a productive way will likely enjoy an increasingly strong innovation-based competitive advantage.
The third reason concerns the aggressive tech profile of Millennials in China, India, and Brazil. Any enterprise based in other regions should be scouting the competitors emerging in these countries and perhaps courting young workers there.
CIOs and senior managers should use our survey findings to think about adjusting their IT and workforce management strategies in ways that motivate the best talent from this young generation. They should get to know the habits of their own Millennials, as the internal users of IT and as the interface with peers outside the company. Short-term imperatives include the following:
Listen and learn. Millennials are a resource to be tapped, not a problem to be solved. They will not easily adapt to Baby Boomers’ habits. But they do want to be involved in shaping their employer’s success.
As this generational shift unfolds, the CIO can serve as an ambassador of sorts to provide communication and continuity between the generations. Younger employees, for instance, might be enlisted to join IT governance committees and working groups.
It’s incumbent on other senior leaders as well to develop a better understanding of emerging technologies – how Millennials view and use them, and how these tools might benefit the company as it interacts with employees, customers, and suppliers. Health products maker Johnson & Johnson, for instance, was lobbied by a group of recent MBA hires to create an internal social network. The company sponsored the social network, which has grown to include virtual classrooms for training and a career-counseling center.1
Using Accenture’s research findings as a springboard, it may be useful to develop a similar profile for your own enterprise, so that crosscountry differences can be spotted and mined for their implications. The fact-finding effort itself can signal to Millennials that the company takes their concerns seriously.
Adapt IT policies to deal with generational diversity. Millennials routinely ignore IT security and privacy policies, they have a strong preference for seeking help from online user communities, and they fundamentally believe – not wish but believe – that digital assets and knowledge are free.
As a result, it’s fruitless to assume that any given restrictive policy will be followed. There may be no particular reason for a Blackberry environment to allow the use of Apple iPhones by employees, but if younger workers already use iPhones, is it really worth alienating them?
One clear direction for policy concerns mobility. With one in five working Millennials spending more than half of their work week on the road or at home, they’re pretty adept at getting their job done using mobile IT. Most CIOs have done the conventional things to enable a mobile workforce, but they need to push further. Most enterprise systems, for instance, feature few if any mobile applications. CIOs should also review their policies on mobile devices, such as more restrictive standards for lower-level workers, to make sure they don’t wind up penalizing only younger workers.
Security concerns, of course, may trump flexibility in some areas. Regulated industries like pharmaceuticals, financial services, law, or any industry subject to European Union privacy regulations, may have a difficult challenge in balancing security with IT diversity. The key to finding the right balance is education focused on the business imperatives behind technology restrictions, and communicated in ways that appeal to Millennials.
Nevertheless, IT modernization programs should support more personalization of content, structure, and form. Companies can plan to manage a greater diversity of hardware devices and software components by introducing choices for users and different levels of support (down to no support) at different prices. And they can adopt architectures that are device-neutral.
The choose-your-own-device concept is starting to gain adherents across the corporate world. Technology giant Cisco Systems has begun letting workers choose from a handful of laptops, and by the end of 2010 plans to expand the list of approved devices. Cisco estimates the initiative should actually save money, in part because of reduced maintenance costs (employees who choose Apple Macs are on their own for support). More importantly, employees’ feedback from the pilot program is very positive.2
Kraft Foods, the consumer-goods giant, is another firm that has decided to start giving employees what they want. Kraft used to lock down PCs so employees couldn't install software on their own, and it prevented them from accessing certain websites. When it came to hardware, Kraft offered a limited choice of smart phones and PCs.
Executives began to worry that the company's technology policies were preventing employees from staying in step with trends and from being productive with the devices they know best. So the IT department stopped blocking access to consumer Websites, and the company started a program allowing smart phones and computers of the employee’s own choosing.3
A review of existing policy, with input from Millennials themselves, can be the first step in thinking about how the workforce can work productively with its preferred technologies, in ways that do not compromise enterprise security. No matter how the policies change, though, business leaders must explain their value and benefit to the organization and to individuals – firmly but respectfully, and in plain language.
Accelerate experiments with social networking. Social networks have become intertwined with business networks. One in four Millennials globally – and four in five in China and India – use social networking to investigate employers, superiors, clients, and service providers. If senior managers aren’t using the same communications vehicles as Millennials, they won’t be part of the conversation.
These constructs can be put to use to engage employees and recruits, and to orchestrate interactions with customers. And the CIO and IT staff are in a pivotal position to connect Millennial employees with Millennial customers.
Cisco actively promotes social networking technologies to increase collaboration among employees. Cisco uses a Facebook-like internal directory to find everything from lunch partners to a subject-matter expert. An internal YouTube-like video-sharing site lets employees share product reports, engineering updates, and sales ideas.4
Accenture just launched a new informal network called “Accenture Groups,” designed for self-sustaining communities of shared interests, leveraging easy-to-use technologies. In addition, an internal YouTube-like video-sharing site lets employees share learning experiences, technology updates, and sales ideas.
Other companies may find that an in-house network is not necessary if Millennials have already started self-organizing, by company, on Facebook, or Orkut in India, or comparable social networks in other regions. Once those networks have achieved significant scale, it may be wise to leverage them rather than insisting on an in-house community.
Bridge the generation gap.
The traditional hierarchy for managing Millennials is likely on its last legs. Senior leaders will need to restructure their organizations in ways that harness the creativity of young employees yet don’t impair productivity.
We believe that for at least the next decade, a central feature of this challenge is to manage multigenerational teams effectively. In the excitement about new technologies and fresh ideas, it’s too easy to dismiss the experiences and knowledge of older employees as irrelevant. That would be a mistake. Enlisting the participation of more senior staff is essential, as is transferring their institutional and market knowledge to the younger generation.
Companies will want to create opportunities for senior employees and Millennials to work together. For instance, “co-coaching” through year-long pairings can provide a structure for senior employees to transfer knowledge about processes and Millennials to demonstrate all the uses of new technologies. Two-way coaching, as distinct from one-way mentoring, can also function as a safe forum for discussing career issues.
For CIOs, the Future is Already Here
CIOs have an extraordinary opportunity to help lead their companies to a successful future. Much of the transformation potential that Millennials represent will be enabled through CIOs and their organizations.
The IT proliferation that’s shaped the personal lives of anyone under age 30 has now spilled into the corporate world, like it or not. Millennials are often breaking the rules around corporate IT. Moreover, they’re growing in number and importance – as employees, customers, suppliers, and partners.
The smart response for business leaders and especially for CIOs: Listen – really listen – to Millennials’ concerns and suggestions. Learn how they use technology and start using it yourself. Adapt your policies and processes to accommodate a more mobile and tech-savvy user base.
Get to know the regional variations of technology behavior within your own company and marketplace, because there are competitive implications.
China, India, and Brazil came to IT relatively late but fresh, without the legacy of earlier, less flexible technologies. These leapfroggers have proven to be aggressive users of all the emerging technologies, which constitutes an advantage no matter what industry they’re in. Companies in Europe, where technology use and attitudes lag, should be especially concerned about this competitive threat.
Adapting to the new realities of our young workforce should not be put off for another time. Millennials often have scant patience for things that aren’t working for them, and will either find ways around the barrier or quickly leave for jobs elsewhere. If you haven’t already experienced the collision of cultures, it’s now on your doorstep.
In their Own Words
Excerpts from interviews with Millennials
Full-time intern in France, age 26:
I would have liked to take my own laptop to work – not only is it better performing, but it also has its own configuration, it is lighter, and has a longer-lasting battery.
In France, most corporations and schools are lagging behind in modernizing their technology. Many banks have fixed workstations; others still have really old materials. While technology is important in my choice of employer, it is a key asset, not a priority. Looking around me, I know that it is not a major criteria for everyone ... most would prioritize the job content.
Instant messaging is rapid, unified, fluid. It allows you to establish and confirm work objectives easily. Email is not always the best tool and many people do not take the time to respond to some mails, because of the increasingly high volume. Two minutes on instant messaging can achieve the same results of 10 emails! For many people, even if it is an efficient tool, email can be a loss of time.
Technology is often misunderstood by enterprises … especially if it is simple and with a large potential. Think about Twitter – one might be afraid of sharing an idea, but a good idea should not be kept hidden. Twitter can be a strategic tool to validate an idea.
I use social networks in two different ways. First, in my personal life to establish an exchange of information – organizing a party, looking for comments on an exhibition. In my work life, I have a different profile and I manage my image; I choose what I share.
Full-time employee in China, age 23:
I use a company laptop, but use my own phone and IM during work. Generally, the company-provided technology is adequate. I do wish there was more support of mobile devices like iPhone applications.
I prefer to use email with clients. But IM is better among colleagues, partly because it’s informal. People prefer to use public IM such as Windows Messenger instead of corporate IM like Communicator.
I do install software from the Internet without the permission from the IT department, simply because it makes my work easier and faster, and I don’t see the potential risk of doing that. I think most peers in my country do that, too. … I’m aware of the corporate policy, maybe because I’m a new employee. People with longer work experience may not care about the policy, because they think it’s useless and will not influence the final result.
Sometimes I share some information in SNs [social networks]. Most peers my age share more than I do. We just think that friends are more important than corporate online privacy. If one shares more about himself, then he is more up-to-date with his friends.
The state-of-the-art technology is not a very important factor to me in choosing a future employer. However, if an employer does not allow me to use my mobile phone, or blocks lots of Internet sites on my computer, I would be crazy. I think most peers share the same view. I often see my friends complaining about their employers when their favorite SNs sites are blocked.
A powerful and fast computer is critical to our work. Also, it would help a lot if we can use mobile devices during travel. And an open and fast Internet access gives us vast opportunities for our research.
Full-time employee in the U.K., age 27:
There is a difference between hardware and software in the organization. Hardware can be standardized, but I have greater expectations from the software. I would have preferred an Apple laptop, because it allows me to be more creative. Since I did not get one, I downloaded software that allows me to have an Apple-style desktop. Out laptops are too big, they do not allow us to work in a plane or on a train. And there is so much running in the background that they are very slow.
I do not use social networks at work, except when communicating with friends outside of the U.K. Sometimes Facebook – it depends on the audience. I use email at work, it’s easier when I communicate with one or two people. I use instant messaging sometimes, depending on what I am communicating, but mostly to keep in touch with people I have not seen in a while, to maintain a relationship with them. I would use it more if I were able to attach documents. Currently it does not meet the needs of how people want to communicate with each other.
Email helps me stay in control of my workday. I choose when to open and read and delete an email. It’s harder to ignore an instant message – it interrupts my day, so I often drop off to get things done.
Around me, I can see that CIOs are trying to get on the E 2.0 platform. The intent is there, but will they catch up?
Technology is not a critical factor in a choice of employer. I assume my prospective employer would give me access to at least basic technology, I can then download the software that allows me to do my work. Look at the Google Apps, or software as a service, where no tech support is needed.
If a tool brings value, the young people will convince the older team members to use it.
Full-time trainee in India, age 21:
I constantly use technology (Internet, emails, Google, wikis) while working every day, since my work profile demands it.
For the first few months, I used my personal laptop. I started using the office PC only because it was a pain carrying the laptop everywhere. People prefer using their own technology, because they are used to it and have everything set up their own way, so it’s personalized and easier to figure out.
Personally, I am not dissatisfied with the technology here. We have what we require for our field purposes. But there are certain applications that cannot be used or downloaded, like Google Chrome. Also, my PC does not have speakers, so I need to use my own headphones.
The disappointment is more in terms of the kind of computers provided. They might not function properly, since most of them are old and often get hung up. This slows down work.
People obviously want technology to be more user-friendly, faster, and simpler. If a certain software or application can provide this, then why not get it [even if it is not approved by the company]?
I generally don’t share workrelated details in social networks or blogs, maybe because I am not too comfortable with it. I like to keep my professional and personal life somewhat different.
Organizations should continually work toward upgrading and updating technology. It is also essential to ensure proper use of this technology by the employees, in order to derive the maximum benefit. They could probably organize training programs for this purpose. Even if the company has to spend more money to adopt something new, when compared with its advantages, it should be worth it.
For further information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
1 Ron Alsop, “The Trophy Kids Grow Up,” Jossey-Bass, 2008
February 10, 2010
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