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Working from home takes its toll as stressed employees open up organisations to cyber threats

March 2021 by Forcepoint

Forcepoint announced new research investigating how the shift to working from home has impacted people’s behaviours and attitudes. It reveals how over half (52%) of UK employees are under increased personal pressure due to remote working mandates and are undertaking risky behaviours that expose organisations to cyber threats.

One of the biggest findings of the study reveals that younger people (under the age of 35) and caregivers experience greater negative impacts when working from home than others.

Different generations, different behaviours

While both older (aged 55+) and younger employees report similar levels of organisational support – whether that’s additional training, the right equipment to do their job or feeling valued at work – their emotional experiences and their use of technology is markedly different.

Almost two thirds (64%) of younger employees say that their stress level makes it difficult to focus, compared to 29% of older workers, and 70% stated they feel the pressure to be available outside of normal working hours, compared to almost half (48%) of older workers. Almost three quarters (71%) of younger employees also reported that they feel stressed out by competing demands from their personal and professional lives, compared to 40% of older employees.

Younger employees also revealed significant stress and anxieties about their job security compared to other age groups with 69% stating they are worried about their job performance and ability to do their job well. Almost half (49%) of younger staff also say they struggle to understand their professional goals.

When it comes to the impact of this stress, Forcepoint questioned UK employees on their behaviour during lockdown. 41% of younger people reported making more mistakes when working from home, such as copying in the wrong people into emails. Over half (54%) also stated that distractions whilst working from home negatively impact decision making. 46% said they used shadow IT as it allows them to perform certain tasks more easily. Shadow IT can easily open up organisations to cyber-attacks.

Dr Margaret Cunningham, Principal Research Scientist at Forcepoint, commented on the results: “Throughout the whole study we saw that certain groups were more negatively impacted by work-from-home mandates, and the group most affected were the younger workers. This group also reported higher stress levels, which may indicate that they feel pressured by time or work commitments and therefore engage in riskier behaviours to get their jobs done. This can expose organisations to increased cybersecurity risks.”

The Pressure of Care Responsibilities

Caregivers are also feeling the pressure. The combination of stress of maintaining a work/life balance, caring for others and concerns over job security, could lead this group to engage in riskier behaviours compared to other demographic groups.

The research reveals almost three quarters (71%) of caregivers feel stressed out by competing demands from personal and professional life, with 70% stating they feel the pressure to be available outside of normal working hours. Almost half (49%) also said they find it difficult to make day-to-day professional decisions while working from home.

Caregivers also reported that caring for others negatively impacts their job performance, with 59% saying this was the case. 62% of caregivers are also worried about their ability to do their job well, with 68% are worried about their employment status and whether they will lose their job.

When it comes to the impact of lockdown on caregivers, we also see more risky behaviours. 45% of caregivers said they tend to make more minor mistakes when working from home and over half (53%) reported that distractions impact their decision making whilst working from home. 40% also stated they needed shadow IT to get their job done.

Without additional support from employers, young people and caregivers could continue to deviate further from pre-set and learned IT security rules, exposing their companies to further increased security risk.

Dr. Cunningham continued: “Lockdown has been a stressful time for everyone, and while employers have admirably supported remote working with technology and connectivity, the human factor must not be overlooked. Interruptions, distractions, and split attention can be physically and emotionally draining and as such it’s unsurprising that decision fatigue and motivated reasoning continues to grow.

“Companies and business leaders need to take into account the unique psychological and physical situation of their home workers when it comes to effective IT protection. They need to make their employees feel comfortable in their home offices, raise their awareness of IT security and also model positive behaviors. Knowing the rules, both written and implied, and then designing behavior-centric metrics surrounding the rules can help us mitigate the negative impact of these risky behaviors.”

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