Technological change is shaping the workplace and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work is a trend that is increasing. But how is it affecting the employment relationship? Is it driving employee satisfaction and productivity or is it making it harder for employers to manage their employees? Mark Beatson, Chief Economist at the CIPD, considers this trend.

Last week, along with a number of HR practitioners, I participated in a discussion about the future of work convened by Outsource magazine and Capita.  Technological change inevitably featured in the discussion.  Its potential to change the way we work, and what we do, is probably limited only by our imagination, but its actual effects on our lives will depend on more tangible factors such as its cost, risk, and environmental and social acceptability.  I’m sure a robot could cut our hair today but it probably would be a very expensive haircut (and might not look like one).

In this case, though, discussion turned to the here and now.  The proposition was that, in today’s more porous organisations, employers find it more difficult to manage their employees through bureaucratic controls, especially when these are resisted by employees.  The spread of Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) was given as an example: employers may not be keen on the idea, but resistance was futile and soured the relationship with employees, especially those Millennials we hear so much about.

It’s a plausible story, but is this the reality in most workplaces?  As it happens, CIPD’s summer 2013 Employee Outlook survey asked a few questions on this topic.  The data below are for the 2,206 employees who were in full or part-time employment at the time.

Employees were asked if their employer provided them with one or more devices in order to fulfil their job role.  Almost three quarters (74%) said they were provided with at least one device, most commonly a desktop PC (52%), a laptop or notebook (25%), or a smartphone (15%).  Just 4% of employees were provided with a tablet or some ‘other’ form of device.  A fifth (20%) of employees said they were provided with more than one device, the most common combinations being laptop-smartphone (9%), desktop-laptop (8%) and desktop-smartphone (7%).  Of the 5% who said they were provided with 3 or more devices, three quarters were middle and senior managers or were involved in running their business.  A proliferation of devices seems to come with rank.

Over three quarters (78%) of employees said they had no choice about the types of device they were provided with, whereas 10% said they were given a limited choice and 10% were given a free choice of device.  Employees were most likely to say they were given a free choice when they were allocated a tablet (44% of tablet users) or a smartphone (21% of smartphone users).  Employees in the very smallest businesses – those with less than 10 employees – were much more likely to say they were given a free choice of device.  In larger organisations, corporate IT policies yield savings by restricting choice.

Just under a quarter of employees (23%) said they brought a personal mobile device into work and used it for work purposes (they may also have used it for personal purposes but this was not the sole use).  The most common device used in this way was a smartphone (16%).  Indeed, 4% of employees were provided with a smartphone by their employer but also brought in a device of their own and used it for work purposes!  People in this two phone group were disproportionately male, disproportionately middle managers or above and disproportionately aged 45 or over.

The chart below plots variation in the BYOD percentage by various personal and job-related characteristics.  It also shows that just over half of these employees were allowed to connect their personal device to the work system (for example, connecting to the internet or using Wi-Fi).  A third of employees said their employer did not allow any form of connection.  In more than half of these cases (rising to three quarters in the public sector), employees said that concerns about security were the reason.  Cost, connectivity or worries about an epidemic of Candy Crush playing were less widespread.

 BYOD: there is great variation amongst age, industry and employer size when it comes to bring your own device policies.

BYOD: there is great variation amongst age, industry and employer size when it comes to bring your own device policies.

Those employees whose employers provided more than one device (such as a desktop-laptop combo) were also more likely to BYO – and their employer was also more likely to allow connection.  This may be a sign that, in technology rich environments with multiple devices, adding personal devices is less of an issue.  There are also substantial variations by industry.  Employees in shops, hotels, restaurants or healthcare presumably felt less need to use their personal device for work purposes – indeed, in customer or client facing roles it may be discouraged or prohibited.

So what about those Millennials?  Well, 25-34 year olds were more likely than other age groups to BYO – and their employers appear more likely to have accommodated this.  But it’s not a big difference and much smaller than the variations we see for managerial status or salary.  Perhaps there is a small amount of Millennial pushback, but the bigger story here is managers and well-paid professionals ignoring their IT Departments or reminding them who’s in charge.  Senior managers may rarely qualify for an office these days, but no-one is going to stop them from using the phone of their choice.

By Mark Beatson, Chief Economist at the CIPD


What do you think of BYOD? Will it become the standard for all workplace? Or is there too much of a data protection risk involved? Share your views in the comments section below!

For more original opinion pieces like this, subscribe to our monthly spam-free future of work newsletter.