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Flexibility or Salary: What Do You Value Most at Work?

Members of Generation Y are likely to choose flexibility over higher pay. Our columnists face off about this preference.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks are abuzz with reactions to a recent survey by technology company Cisco about, well, social media -- and what it means to Gen Y. The hottest topic: About one-third of the respondents, representing college students and young professionals from around the world, said they'd choose more personal freedom, or flexibility, in the workplace over a higher salary.

In other words, Gen Y highly values the opportunity to access Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets at work for personal -- as well as professional -- use. And four out of five college students said they'd like to be able to choose the tablets and smart phones they use for work. Three out of five expect employers to throw in the right to work remotely with a flexible schedule.

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Are these survey respondents leaning in the right direction? Or should Gen Yers reevaluate their criteria for choosing an employer? Two "Starting Out" columnists face off below with their opinions. We'd love to hear your thoughts as well, and what better place to discuss the future of social media at work than via our Facebook page and @SOKiplinger Twitter feed?

Liisa Says: More Pay All the Way

In a world where technology mixes business with pleasure, young people want more options for how and where they complete their work. But giving up salary for flexibility? Really?

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When I first saw the survey, the results blew me away. I was surprised to see that my fellow Gen Yers so clearly do not see salary as the main currency anymore. Additional income without social media perks is not enticing to many Millennials. After all, Cisco reported that half of those surveyed would rather lose their wallets than their smart phones. And a previous survey in the same study revealed that one-third of respondents considered the Internet to be as important as air, water, food and shelter.

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Social media is how we've learned to connect and communicate. It's second nature. And more and more young people won't work themselves to the bone just for more money. But how much income will young professionals give up for greater flexibility?

For me, right now, salary is more important than flexibility. While I am very much a member of Gen Y -- on Facebook and Twitter every day -- I also have student loans to repay, and they were very much on my mind as I was looking for work. Social media won't pay the bills (not for me anyway -- until that successful blog idea comes to me). Extra income, on the other hand, will let me pay off my private and federal loans faster and start saving to own a house someday.

Later in life, when I have a family, flexibility will become more important -- a priority alongside salary. I will need to cover my expenses, but I will also want to be able to work from home if my kid gets sick. So there will be some give-and-take.

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Not many Gen Yers are parents yet, though, so why the push for flexibility? As The Kiplinger Letter noted a year ago, young professionals want their jobs to be fun and meaningful, and they won't stick with a job they don't like no matter how rough the economy. They're changing the workplace to fit their needs, and some will take a lower salary -- for now. But I think down the line we'll see Millennials pushing for social media flexibility and a higher salary.

Amanda Says: Flexibility for the Win

Cisco's study aimed to find out what social media, mobile devices and the Internet mean to Gen Y and how they influence job decisions. Survey says: They mean a lot. Is there something wrong with that?

The first thing I do after I get to work in the morning is check my e-mail and spend about 20 minutes sifting through the news -- on Twitter. That is how I access and digest information. Several of my older colleagues do the same thing, only with a newspaper. Now, imagine that your company banned newspapers or magazines. Would that make you wonder about whether you want to work there?

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The point is that corporate culture is important when evaluating a job offer, and social media policy is often a reflection of that culture. As integral as social media is in my life, I would not turn down a job simply because the prospective employer wouldn't allow me to access Facebook or Twitter for personal reasons. What would make me think twice about that job is the fact that such a policy makes the company seem resistant to change.

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Of course, an important question that the study did not take into account is: How much income would you trade for flexibility? One-third of respondents said they would prioritize flexibility over pay. But I don't think the full third would turn down, say, $20,000 more a year for easy access to Facebook and Twitter -- I know I wouldn't. But, call me crazy: If it came down to a salary difference of $5,000 a year, I would probably choose freedom.

Many companies struggling in this harsh economy have been unable to afford higher salaries for even their most seasoned employees, let alone entry-level newcomers. So Gen Yers seeking employment (of which there are many -- in November 2011, the national unemployment rate for people between the ages of 25 and 34 remained above 9%) have little choice but to take low pay. And if we have to accept salaries that mean living on canned soup and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the next year, I don't see anything wrong with asking for some perks that cost the company little, such as the freedom to update our daily (or hourly, or second-ly) Facebook statuses and work from home a couple of days a month.

Whose side are you on? Let us know your opinion on Facebook and Twitter.

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