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Forget flex spending, Millennials want a flexible mobile device policy

Millennials are willing to pass over higher pay for a mobile device policy that appeals to their roaming nature. Is it time for IT to adjust its BYOD strategies?

The Millennials are here, they've brought their own devices and they're not afraid to sidestep a mobile device policy in their quest to use them.

One-third of college students and young professionals under the age of 30 value device flexibility more than salary when they consider a job offer, the 2011 "Cisco Connected World Technology Report" indicates. Almost half of the 2,800 respondents said they'd accept a lower-paying job if it came with greater device flexibility.

This could create a nightmare for IT departments and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies everywhere. Born after 1981, Millennials have never known life without a computer, after all; and they haven't experienced life as an adult without some sort of mobile device in their hands. By 2013, they will make up half the nation's workforce.

What's the IT department to do? In a word -- adjust. In fact, if you haven't adjusted your mobile device policy already, you're lagging behind, IT managers and analysts suggest.

The 'kids' are all right, your BYOD policy isn't

In all the hype about Millennials, managers can miss the fact that they are really no different from their workplace predecessors in their need for device flexibility. In other words: Don't blame the "kids."

Younger employees expect to use their own devices at work, and do, agrees analyst Maribel Lopez, founder and president of San Francisco-based Lopez Research LLC. But it's nothing new, she hastened to note: It's all part of the consumerization of IT, a phenomenon that knows no generation.

"As they move between work and personal life, they want to continue this experience," Lopez said. "You don't want one experience at work and one at home, and feel as though you are crippled technically at the office. IT wants to be in a position to make the user feel as empowered as possible, no matter where they are, so you can have a more productive workforce."

This ease of use and productivity doesn't have to come at the expense of company information or the introduction of malware. It is possible -- and nowadays necessary -- for companies to accept BYOD as part of doing business, even though the prospect is daunting, frazzling and even a little frightening, said Christopher Steffen, principal technical architect at Kroll Factual Data in Loveland, Colo.

"Whether you want to face it or not, you have employees, they have devices and you need to come to some understanding on how to deal with that," Steffen said. "Your IT department either has to accept it or go back to bed and snuggle with their mainframes. That's just the constantly changing nature of IT.".

Acceptance starts with having a flexible, well-promulgated mobile device policy. Being draconian misses the point, Steffen said. "There has to be a mutual understanding about how employees want to use these devices and how IT wants to secure them."

Your IT department either has to accept it or go back to bed and snuggle with their mainframes. That's just the constantly changing nature of IT.

Christopher Steffen, principal technical architect, Kroll Factual Data

Policy-making is as simple as having a conversation. "It sounds elementary when it comes to making a cohesive policy," Steffen said. "Address your consumer and find out their needs. But so many companies don't do that. They legislate from on high, and don't have information about what's going on in their environment. If you have a policy that reflects the sensitivity of the information you're trying protect, as well as the employees' needs, you'll have not only a happier compliance department and legal department but happier employees as well."

A BYOD policy balances work and life

What Millennials want in terms of device flexibility is in keeping with what they want from their work experience overall. Generational-dynamics expert Jessie Newburn, president of Stellium Communications in Columbia, Md., points out that wanting the freedom to work anywhere, anytime is in line with their high prioritization of a work-life balance.

"Part of the conscious or unconscious [choice] around wanting to have device flexibility and mobility is not that they're not going to do their best and give their all to their jobs," Newburn said. "It's more that they're just not going to be workaholics who sacrifice the life they want to lead for affluence."

Some Millennials, like Jeremy Baumgartner, a 29-year-old systems engineer at DePere, Wis.-based SRC Technologies Inc., are taken aback by the idea that their peers would accept less money in return for a flexible mobile device policy. "I am a fan of device flexibility, but not so much as to take a lower-paying job for it. I view it as a benefit, not a requirement," he said.

"I think the result here has more to do with schedule and device flexibility, rather than device flexibility alone -- that's a pretty important distinction," said Michelle Wilson, a 28-year-old account manager at Columbia, Md.-based Atlantic Risk Management Corp. "Everybody wants more flexibility with their time, and I think everyone would make salary concessions to get rid of a commute; but accepting a job that pays $10,000 less so I can use the phone I'd prefer would not be worth it to me."

Still, Newburn can see why it could happen. "That special treatment is one of the things [Millennials] need; otherwise, employers will lose them and they'll end up with a workforce that doesn't reflect the population," she said. "If you don't have that aspect and understanding of the new energy that's rising into companies, and also the new consumers, [then] companies and organizations and municipalities will be deeply hindered."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, Features Writer.

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