About 70 percent of all businesses have high work pressure, too little personnel and deficits in health protection.
Many companies in Germany are ill-equipped to meet the challenges of digitization and demographic change. Around 70 per cent of the larger companies perceive great job pressure and associated mental stress and deficits in personal qualification development as problems, which could jeopardize the health and future prospects of their employees. Above all, there is a lack of sufficient personnel with flexible working time models that support the balance of work and family life, and in health protection. 76 percent of companies do not carry out the legally required risk assessments as expected. These are the findings of a new study by the Economic and Social Sciences Institute of the Hans Böckler Foundation. The basis for the study is represented by a survey of more than 2,000 workers’ councils.
To make a company fit for "work 4.0", working conditions must be right. After all, with more complex tasks, motivation and personal responsibility are becoming still more important. And healthy workers are twice as important, as the supply of skilled workers shrinks. Yet, according to the WSI works council survey, large sections of the German economy are not yet up to date in this respect,
According to the data, which is based on interviews with more than 2000 workers’ council members in 2016, employees are quite open to digitization: Two-fifths of the employee representatives surveyed associate new technologies with positive effects. 38 percent believe that employees have more opportunities to work independently.
However, the opportunities presented by the digital transformation in terms of flexibility and balance of work and family life remain partly untapped: For example, only 13 percent of the companies allow work from home for their employees. According to Ahlers, the home office asserted itself mostly in the IT sector, yet there is no apparent general trend in this direction.
In some industries, the study is dominated by a decidedly critical view of the consequences of digitization. In the case of banks and insurance companies, for example, every third workers’ council fears negative effects such as increasing rationalization, standardization and performance control. The social scientist warns, that large parts of the world of digital work are in fact still hardly regulated and offer little protection against surveillance and data abuse.
Work intensity further increased, satisfaction dropped
According to 78 percent of respondents, the work intensity has risen in the past five years, which shows that there is still a considerable need for improvement in the operating environment. Especially stressful is work in services: In education, health and school sectors, 84 percent of respondents are affected by labour intensification. On average across all sectors, 56 percent of workers’ council members report that job satisfaction has fallen at the same time. As far as the current situation is concerned, 73 percent of HR managers’ report a shortage of personnel and 60 percent report permanent time pressure. 76 percent state that there are no holistic risk assessments on their sites - although, for example, systematic recording of psychological stress has been required by law for years.
According to the study, in a very large proportion of the companies surveyed, the topics of work intensification and performance pressure were discussed at company meetings or negotiations between workers’ councils and employers. WSI researcher Ahlers says: "The workers’ councils are active when they encounter acute problems, yet obviously they often see only slow progress.” "This is also an indication that there are even greater problems in companies without employee participation on decision making, which we could not investigate in our survey."
When asked about the key challenges of the next few years, nearly three-quarters of employee representatives cite a reasonable staffing level. Seventy percent of the workers’ councils consider it necessary to reduce the permanently high work pressure that is common in many workplaces. 69 percent of the respondents are convinced that qualification of the workforce for digitization is urgently needed, 63 percent think that a better reconciliation of work and private life is necessary. 58 percent of the respondents are convinced that occupational health protection needs to be adapted to the new digital conditions such as mobile work and constant accessibility.
Especially in demand: More staff, higher working time autonomy
Ahlers recommends that companies should increase their staff so that employees can manage their work without risks to their own health. The need for action is particularly high in day-care centres and hospitals, where staffing shortages often result in adverse working conditions and unfair pay. According to the researcher, in addition to home office, working time accounts could contribute to more working time autonomy. In the field of preventive health protection, new approaches are needed that take into account the conflict between the desire for more autonomy of work and the risk of self-exploitation and offer individual empowerment assistance. Design of working conditions would need more participation. Legislative rules for preventive occupational health protection with participatory risk assessments already exist - the implementation, however, has yet far to go.