Rogue & Resourceful: Study shows workers are circumventing IT to meet deadlines and maintain productivity

According the Snow’s latest research, millennials and management are emotionally attached to their unauthorized SaaS even though they understand the risks, putting pressure on IT to find a balance between employee empowerment and organizational efficiency

The explosion of cloud and as-a-service technologies has made it easy for employees to buy and use their own applications without help from IT. However, unfettered access alone isn’t driving this behavior. According to new research from Snow Software, workers are heavily impacted by and invested in the technology they use every day, and those emotional ties can put them on a collision course with IT and their organization’s best interests.

The study, which surveyed 3,000 workers around the world, found 46% of employees access personal documents on their work device without IT’s permission. Surprisingly, another 41% of global employees are going behind IT’s back to get professional software and applications. That makes procuring your own technology to do your job is the second most common IT infraction, ahead of accessing other types of personal content like apps, music, videos and photos.


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When asked about the impact of needing IT’s permission to get software or applications to do their job, 40% of workers reported that they feel watched, 32% said that it slowed them down and impacted deadlines, 27% said it was frustrating and 26% felt it negatively impacted productivity. Just 25% reported that it doesn’t impact them at all.

Clearly, the line between our professional and personal lives has blurred.

In addition to accessing personal files on work devices, the vast majority of employees have accessed work assets on their personal devices. Work documents came in on top at 51%, followed by work software and applications at 38%, work photos or videos at 34%, then work contracts, customer data and employee data tied at 29% each with financial documents and billing systems coming in last at 27%. Only 15% said they have never accessed these assets on their personal laptop or mobile device.

But what does the data tell us about why this shift has happened and how IT can respond? When we broke down the survey responses based on demographics, some key trends emerged.

Digital natives have redefined the workforce

Millennials are almost twice as likely to go rogue compared to baby boomers, with 81% admitting they have used or accessed something on their work device without IT’s permission versus just 51% of older workers who have done the same. The biggest difference was in software and applications – in the millennial age group, 47% reported accessing work apps and 46% admitted to accessing personal apps with permission, compared to just 22% and 18% of boomers.


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Millennials reported the greatest impact on their work when they have to ask IT for permission, with 47% saying it made them feel watched, 36% saying it slows them down and impacts deadlines, 31% reporting it is frustrating and 29% claiming it negatively impacts their productivity. Conversely, half of boomers said asking permission had no impact on their work.

We also asked respondents how it makes them feel when they need to ask permission to get to get software and applications to do their job. Millennials are exponentially more emotional about asking permission. Compared to baby boomers, they are nearly five times more likely to be nervous (24% vs 5%), over four times more likely to feel it is beneath them (22% vs 5%), almost three times more likely to believe it makes them unproductive (35% vs 15%) and over three times more likely to believe it is an outdated concept. Yet 40% of boomers reported that they don’t mind it. 

When it came to be recognizing the business problems related to unaccounted and unmanaged technology, millennials have the best grasp of the various issues that can arise. All age groups understood that security could be a major concern, 67% of millennials and 65% of boomers acknowledging it could be a problem. But millennials were far more likely to also list privacy and financial risk as potential issues. A full 18% of boomers said they don’t believe unsanctioned software causes any business problem at all.

Digital-native workers have grown up with the expectation that an endless supply of technology is available where and when they want it. It is clear that the trends we are seeing in millennial employees have become the new normal and will only deepen as they move through the workforce.

Employees with the most power are the worst behaved

Overall, management-level employees (manager, director, vice president or executive) were almost twice as likely to use unauthorized professional or personal software and applications compared to individual contributors (entry-level, associate or specialist). Vice presidents and c-level executives led the way in using work software and applications (57%), personal software and applications (51%) and personal documents (54%) without permission. Directors were most likely to access personal photos, music and videos on work devices (50%). At the opposite end of the spectrum, entry-level employees are the best behaved, with 38% reporting they have never accessed anything on their work device without IT’s permission.


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Executives were also most likely to report that needing to ask IT for permission to get work software and applications slows them down and impacts deadlines (42%) as well as negatively impacting their productivity (32%). Managers were most likely to report that asking permission makes them feel watched (46%). Entry-level employees were nearly twice as likely to say that asking permission had no impact on their work (41%).

In terms of their emotional response, both executives and surprisingly interns were significantly more likely to say asking permission to get software and applications to do their job was beneath them, at 34% and 33% respectively. Another 19% of executives admitted they don’t have an emotional reaction because they never ask permission. Managers reported feeling most nervous (26%) and most unproductive (36%) when they need to ask permission. In terms of going with the flow, 37% of specialists and 36% of associates said they don’t mind it.

Yet there is an incredible disconnect between worker behavior and what they believe are the biggest business problems for unaccounted and unmanaged technology. For example, just 93% of executives acknowledged that it causes business issues, yet 57% have still gone around IT to access professional software and apps. And even though entry-level employees are the best behaved, with only 25% downloading work software or applications without IT’s permission, they were also most likely to think that doing so doesn’t have any negative impact on the business. 

This should be especially concerning given the access executives and management have to sensitive information and data. Executives even admit that they should know better, as they see the potential harm involved across the spectrum, beyond security to pressing business issues such as financial risk and privacy.

But knowledge is clearly not enough, nor are strict policies that management-level employees will simply ignore. When faced with such risky technology behavior, visibility and understanding the scope of the problem is a critical first step towards finding a workable solution.

It isn’t just about tech

In general, today’s employees have more anxiety when it comes to asking for what they need at work. This trend was especially pronounced in younger and more senior employees, aligning with their views on workplace technology.

As part of the survey, we asked respondent who makes them nervous when they need to ask for permission, either personally or professionally. Overall, 38% of respondents felt nervous to get permission from their bosses and 27% were nervous to get permission from their IT department. These professional asks made respondents almost twice as nervous as personal ones – only 18% are nervous to get permission from their spouse or partner, followed by 16% who are nervous to ask their parents or in-laws.

In terms of generational differences, 65% of baby boomers said that no one makes them nervous. Their boss came in second place (20%) and they are equally nervous around their IT department and spouse or partner (9%). In contrast, just 26% of millennials said no one makes them nervous. Almost half (46%) said they are nervous of their boss, and nearly a third (30%) are nervous of their IT department.

While it is tempting to attribute boomer’s confidence to experience, the data showed that seniority alone is not the answer. Both executives (33%) and managers (33%) were most likely to report they are nervous of their IT department. Managers (44%) and interns (47%) were most nervous of their boss. Entry-level employees actually appear to be the most confident, with 42% claiming that no one makes them nervous.

If anything, the survey highlights just how emotionally invested millennials and executives are in their work, and that includes the technology they use to get the job done.

Our relationship with work has changed, and as guardians of organization’s technology ecosystem, it is up to IT to find a balance between empowering this new workforce and serving the business. The data on worker behavior also suggests that this balance hasn’t been achieved yet. Which means the first step is to acknowledge the issue and get a better understanding of workers needs along with how that intersects the technology that is currently in use within your organization. Without that visibility, no one will be able to effectively do their jobs, and you won’t be prepared for the next