Why a disjointed work-life balance is a cybersecurity problem

July 22, 2019

The lines between personal and professional are becoming increasingly blurred. People are often now spending more hours in the office than they do at home. Yet, as many as a quarter do corporate tasks outside of the office. Hints persist that the ideal work-life balance may simply not be achievable in modern society.

The lack of separation between tasks to execute at work and things to do at home could be caused by a rapid rise in the amount of digital information we all contend with. Our personal and professional lives now rely on such data stored in social media and e-mail accounts, digital documents and shared folders. Our recent study shows a great deal of disorganization in business file and credential management.

The death of the work-life balance

Working in an office from nine to five has clear benefits: steady employment, steady income, and steady working hours. Except, the era of the nine-to-five is long gone. We are all now expected to stay at work a little longer, whether it is for a one-off meeting, a tight deadline or even the Christmas party. For millions of workers, working late is necessary to do their jobs effectively. In fact, it is estimated that workers in Mexico put in an average of 43 hours a week, with workers in Costa Rica, Greece, and South Korea not too far behind.

Such circumstances, though accepted, have led to workers juggling their professional and personal lives. Leaving personal belongings at the office and doing domestic tasks at our desks is a common occurrence. It isn’t uncommon for workers to have a change of clothes in their office, so why wouldn’t we do the same for digital information? And having access to the data we need, regardless of its use, at both our house and our office makes life easier.

The big problem with this behavior for businesses is that staff can become careless about where they store corporate information. Workers who are comfortable storing it on their personal devices are not always cautious enough to keep it secure. Information can be compromised and left at risk of cybertheft if it becomes too accessible. This, of course, has far-reaching consequences for the affected business.

Businesses have to manage data — and their workforce

As workers struggle to manage their personal and business information, businesses are left with the extremely tough task of overseeing and securing an ever-growing number of files and data. Our study revealed that 80% of employees don’t think they are responsible for ensuring e-mails, files, and documents have the appropriate access permissions, regardless of whether they created them.

Sensitive personal data, payment details, and authorization codes are just a few examples of the data businesses rely on daily to run efficiently. But staff are not storing these details securely or properly. Only just over half (56%) of employees regularly delete outdated items from their e-mail inbox, and a mere third (34%) get rid of outdated files on their hard drives,

This digital clutter becomes an even greater issue when information is stored in places where it is difficult to control, such as in the cloud or in shared folders, or when files are transferred. Add to this the rapid rise in the number of files being generated and it becomes much harder for organizations to manage corporate information. Despite this, they are still responsible for ensuring that sensitive or confidential data isn’t easy to access and find by those who are not permitted to see it. If an employee can stumble across their colleagues’ salaries, for example, then why not a hacker?

Businesses rely on their staff to support them in managing data securely. If employees and organizations can tackle the challenge of information security together, it is more likely to foster a corporate ethos and culture where everyone cares about protecting the business and helps one another to achieve it. This is where educating employees is so important, so they understand the importance of data security, their role in it and the steps they need to take to keep data safe. Only then will employees better manage their professional and personal information.

Relieving the pressure

In our experience and opinion, digital clutter isn’t the problem, whether personal or at work. The problem is in insufficient personal responsibility and the inability of people to choose and use different environments for different purposes.

Everyone has a different experience. Older people, who in many cases feel less comfortable with new technology, may actually be less likely to share their passwords than young folks are — even those too young to take full responsibility for their personal actions. At the same time, we all know people who feel more comfortable working in an organized space, and others who get much more done amid stacks of papers (not a mess — a different type of environment!).

So, instead of focusing on installing corporate solutions on personal devices (it is difficult and in some countries even impossible to do), or on attempts to change people’s habits by scaring them, we need to create environments that balance security with convenience for different types of information and business processes. More important, we must explain the difference between work that is entirely internal to the business and spaces in which employees communicate and collaborate with people outside the company.

Everyone can arrange their own fridge, but a common refrigerator — or an office desk, or a cloud solution — needs to be comfortable enough, and safe enough, for everyone. Achieving that requires adopting some common rules and understanding. And, of course, someone needs to enforce those rules so that no employees habits interfere with business needs as well as needs and comfort of other employees.