Survey Reveals Generation Gap in Employee Attitudes Toward Confidential Information

A recent Harris Interactive survey of 2,625 adult Americans reveals some interesting attitudes towards employer confidential information, including significant variations depending on an employee’s age:

– 68% of 18-34 year olds responded that it is acceptable to remove confidential information from their place of employment. This contrasts with just half (50%) of those 55 years old or older believing such behavior is acceptable.

– 86% of those 55 years old and over believe someone should be fired for taking confidential information, while 74% of those younger than 55 years old think the same.

– 40% of adults believe it is never acceptable to take confidential company information outside the office, but others think it is acceptable to do so under certain circumstances, including:

  • when the boss says it’s okay (48%);
  • to finish a late-night project from home instead of at the office (32%);
  • to work over the weekend or while on vacation (30%);
  • when the information is about themselves (16%);
  • when the boss won’t find out (2%); and
  • when family or friends promise to keep it confidential (2%).

This survey confirms that the challenge to employers in protecting confidential information will not go away anytime soon, and may worsen. With the past decade’s explosion of electronic data, younger generations have grown up in a culture where data is freely available and readily exchanged. They have grown accustomed to quick and free access to videos, music, and other Internet content. As a result, getting younger employees to appreciate that their treatment of employer’s confidential information must be different from what they do at home will continue to be a challenge.

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