The human factor has long been one of the most difficult elements of a cyber security strategy for businesses to control, but new research has claimed that overwork and stress among younger employees could be contributing to a rise in data breaches.

A study conducted by security vendor Tessian found a significant percentage of millennial workers – those aged between 25 and 34 – are suffering from high workloads, and this could be resulting in them making basic security errors in their day-to-day activities.

The research found 17 per cent of this age group describe their workloads as “overwhelming”, compared with just ten per cent of 35 to 44-year-olds, six per cent of those aged between 45 and 54, and nine per cent of over-55s.

What’s more, around one in five 25 to 34-year-olds have admitted to clicking on a phishing email they have received at work. This is nearly twice the figure for those in other age ranges.

Commenting on the research, Dr Helen Jones, a cyber psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire, said burnout from high workloads can easily result in key warning signs being missed.

“In a phishing email, there would be cues as to the fraudulent nature of the email, but when we’re under pressure we can’t process information in the same way,” she said. “That’s quite concerning when it comes to protecting organisations from those threats.”

Dr Jones added that when there is a lot going on, workers often rely more on habitual behaviours rather than engaging in rational, analytical thinking that allows them to question potentially fraudulent information.

Tessian noted that by 2020, more than half of the UK workforce will be made up of millennials, while workers will spend up to a third of their working week interacting with emails, so it is vital firms take steps to ensure overwork and burnout do not open their organisations up to new threats.

Chief executive at the firm Tim Saddler said: “All it takes is one mistake on email to cause a breach and ruin a company’s reputation. Businesses need to fully understand the impact stress and demanding workloads have on their employees.”

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