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Research - 26.06.2023 - 08:30 

Digitalisation and datafication in the workplace: actively managing employee trust

Researchers led by Prof. Dr. Antoinette Weibel have developed a framework with management strategies that enable companies to exploit the potential of advancing datafication without damaging the trust of their employees. Because trust forms the basis for the digitalisation strategies of responsible companies.
Digitalisierung und Datafizierung am Arbeitsplatz: Vertrauen der Mitarbeitenden aktiv managen
Forschende unter Leitung von Prof. Dr. Antoinette Weibel haben ein Framework mit Managementstrategien entwickelt, die es Unternehmen ermöglichen, die Potenziale der fortschreitenden Datafizierung zu nutzen, ohne dabei das Vertrauen ihrer Mitarbeitenden zu schädigen. Denn Vertrauen bildet die Basis für Digitalisierungsstrategien verantwortungsvoller Unternehmen.

Those who want to successfully manage digitalisation must take into account the natural vulnerability of employees. This vulnerability is at the core of trust, which in turn is the foundation for successful relationships. Therefore, researchers led by Prof. Dr Antoinette Weibel from the Research Institute for Work and Working Environments at the University of St. Gallen investigated the influence of digitalisation and datafication in the workplace on the perceived vulnerability of employees. Their aim was to develop strategies to maintain and strengthen employee confidence in the face of technological change. The results show that employees in highly technological work environments experience vulnerability in two ways: on the one hand, their predictive capacity is reduced by advanced and self-learning technologies, which makes it more difficult to successfully adapt to the new context. On the other hand, new technologies also cause existential vulnerabilities such as fear of loss, identity problems and loneliness. In view of these vulnerabilities, a change in awareness is required in the company, which involves active support and assumption of responsibility on the part of the company. The findings were recently published in the renowned Journal of Management Studies. The corresponding essay also offers managers a framework for actively shaping technological change.

Practical tips for managers

Roughly summarised, the management strategies described in the essay can be divided into symbolic and substantive strategies. First, a new and credible narrative must describe the new reality in order to create the basis for trust ("talk the talk") and then the appropriate framework conditions are created through investments and structural reforms ("walk the talk"). Below is a selection of the strategies suggested by the researchers:

Symbolic strategies:

  • Provide digital literacy training to strengthen staff in the areas of information and data literacy, communication and collaboration, digital content creation and problem-solving.
  • Invest in technologies with self-explanatory and appropriate design that ensure intuitive interpretation, feedback options and trustworthy third-party verification/certification.
  • Use technologies that enable staff participation, provide learning-oriented feedback and give staff some control.

Substantive strategies:

  • Define leadership roles that bridge the gap between technology and employees by emphasising compassion, emotional competence and responsibility.
  • Formal mechanisms for co-design by employers and employees and the involvement of super-users and early adopters throughout the implementation process.
  • Involvement of stakeholders in decision-making processes, e.g. by means of technology impact assessments and thematic advisory boards.

In short: Leaders are challenged to actively foster trust and create an environment where mistakes are seen as learning opportunities and employees feel empowered and valued. The framework of Antoinette Weibel et al. serves as an orientation framework.

Information:

Prof. Dr Antoinette Weibel, Research Institute for Work and Working Environments

Tel.: +41 71 224 23 80, antoinette.weibel(at)unisg.ch

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