Research - 26.09.2016 - 00:00 

Side-effects of digitalisation

The increasing digitalisation of the working world and constant availability for work encumber family life and have a negative impact on health. This is revealed by a survey conducted by the Center for Disability and Integration at the University of St.Gallen. The market research company GfK interviewed more than 8,000 German employees for this study in July and August 2016.

27 September 2016. On the occasion of the study in Berlin on 27 September 2016, Andrea Nahles (Social Democratic Party), Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, said: "Digital change is confronting us with new challenges. If we want to arrive at good solutions that are viable in the long term, employers and employees will have to develop them together. We’ll get further with optimism and confidence rather than by being paralysed with fear: what we’ll have to do is to negotiate new flexibility compromises which take into account both the demands of the digital world of work and employees' family- and health-related requirements. I'm continuing to push this important issue in the Working 4.0 dialogue process."

Side-effects of digital life

"Digitalisation has hit the working population with a vengeance," said Prof. Dr. Stephan Böhm, who was in charge of the survey and works at the Center for Disability and Integration of the University of St.Gallen. The differences between individual professions and industries were rather slight in this respect. According to the survey, the frontrunners in the so-called digitalisation score are the IT and natural science professions with 62 per cent, the rearguard is constituted by the cleaning trades with still no less than 37 per cent.

According to Prof. Böhm, the digitalisation of the working world is accompanied by a number of challenges, among them having problems going to sleep, headaches and backaches, as well as emotional exhaustion: "In addition, 18 per cent of all conflicts between family and work are connected with digitalisation." All in all, 23 per cent of interviewees indicated that they felt burnt out by their work.

Countering the pressure of digitalisation

Nonetheless, a majority of interviewees are facing digitalisation with optimism. Between 51 percent of the 60+ cohort and 65 per cent of the 18-29-year olds made positive statements about digital change. The collected and evaluated data material enabled the researchers to discover modes of behaviour and general conditions that countered these undesirable side-effects: "Flexible working hours and working locations, sports, going without a business mobile phone and business computer in one's spare time, as well as a good relationship with the boss, go hand in hand with a decrease in family and work conflicts and in emotional exhaustion," said Böhm.

According to the study, it is executive staff and younger employees, in particular, who feel an above-average digitalisation pressure. People's fear of losing their job through technology decreases with increasing age: whereas this worry bothers 27 per cent of interviewees in the age group of 18-29-year olds, only 12 per cent of the 60+ cohort are afflicted by this fear.

8,000 people in Germany interviewed

The study on "Effects of the digitalisation of work on the health of employees" by the Center for Disability and Integration of the University of St.Gallen is based on a survey conducted by the market research company GfK, which in July and August of this year interviewed a total of 8,019 people, among them trainees, self-employed people, employees and executive staff from various age groups. The results of the study are representative for the German working population of approx. 33.3m people who work with computers or use mobile phones during their working hours. The survey was commissioned by BARMER GEK in cooperation with BILD am SONNTAG; the project partner is Deutsche Telekom.

Photo: misterQM /

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