The establishment of work 4.0 and agile methods have extensive influences on employees in many ways. One of these is the health of employees. But how do these effects manifest themselves in concrete terms? I would like to give four examples and discuss them.

More life satisfaction through work-life balance

A much-discussed buzzword at the moment is Work-Life Balance. Even a study by Universum shows that a balanced work-life balance is the most important career goal for two-thirds of young professionals. But what does work-life balance actually mean?

newwork
Work-Life Balance means the flexible resolution of work place and working time in a flexible structure.

At Work-Life Balance, I think of models such as flexitime, home office and mobile work, e.g. in the café around the corner. But is that all? I have done various roundtables for this purpose. The board of one of Germany’s largest trade unions said that work-life balance can be established at work location and working time.

Only a few years ago, leisure time was planned for the profession. With Work-Life Balance, this statement seems to be completely reversed. This is what the union’s board says in one of my roundtables on modern work:

“We have created the company agreement that working time from any place, i.e. theoretically also from the swimming pool, is then recognised. It is documented. You can work from anywhere.”

Quote from Dominic Lindner’s roundtable of a union board

It remains to be seen how a work-life balance can affect health. Those who work constantly neglect private life and social contacts. One suffers from excessive demands and internal unrest. However, if this imbalance becomes permanent, this can lead to mental illnesses such as dizziness, burnout or tinnitus.

Reading tip: What is work 4.0

More movement through new office concepts

Another concept is so-called activity-based work. It is a question of creating special rooms or work environments for each employee’s activity. The following figure shows an example of my current employer. We have created a special environment for each form of work.

futurework
Activity-based work – there is a place of work for each activity

The basic idea is situation-oriented spaces that are suitable for routine work as well as for creative tasks and project work. Thus, the term “design of the interior design points to the activities of the employees”. Famous examples can be found in companies with large campus buildings such as Datev, Adidas and the German Telekom. In my roundtable there was a manager who works in such a new office building and said:

“Every table is available, it is not booked in advance, because at the end of the day it makes the system even more complex if I had to think about every evening: Where do I sit tomorrow? That would just be too much effort. And so every workplace is basically free for everyone. I can sit where I want.”

Quote from Dominic Lindner’s roundtable of a sports goods manufacturer’s manager

But what is the impact on health? It is no longer a secret that a sedentary lifestyle poses great health risks. Side effects include back or neck pain. The typical office worker sits for up to 12 hours a day. The creativity of the employees also suffers in the permanent same working environment (e.g. the desk).

With the help of this new working concept, creativity is promoted through a change of location and movement. My experience is that the employee usually change jobs every 2 hours in this new work environment, thus massively reducing the burden of sitting.

Reading Tip: Future Work

Less burn-out or bore-out through agile methods

Strict guidelines, monotomy and impotence in the workplace lead to diseases such as burn-out or bore-out. While Bore-Out means the under-demand by monotonous and boring tasks, burn-out is the opposite: the over-demanding by too many tasks. The following figure shows such small-scale work, in which each employee performs the same activity on a daily basis.

Digitisation-at-workplace-hazards
Division of labour in the classical organisation

Agile methods such as Scrum ensure that employees have a varied job through a backlog (task list). Tasks are not assigned because employees pull them out of a task backlog and do them independently.

In my roundtables, agile methods were also discussed and the union’s board conducted initial studies on them. His first conclusion is:

Our employee survey shows that agile methods are good for employees. Strict processes and guidelines lead to dissatisfaction and stress.

Quote from Dominic Lindner’s roundtable of a union board

Strict processes and guidelines often lead to the two diseases bore-out and burn-down. The symptoms are quite the same: lack of pleasure, nausea, irritability, permanent fatigue, dullness, powerlessness and exhaustion. Other consequences include serious diseases such as dizziness, tinnitus, stomach discomfort and headaches.

Reading tip: Scrum in corporations

Risk of overstimulation due to technology

Overstimulation is a colloquial metaphor for an assumed state of the body in which it absorbs so many stimuli at the same time through the senses that it can no longer be processed and leads to a psychological overload in the affected person.” (Source Wikipedia).

But what is the effect of such overstimulation and why is it relevant in the digital age? One of my participants in the Roundtable said:

“I come to the office in the morning and have 40 unread mails. At the same time, when I answer them, I get more messages via Skype, HipChat, etc.”

Quote from the Roundtable by Dominic Lindner of a manager in the textile industry

So it’s about a lot of messages and impressions affecting the employees and there’s a lot of psychological strain from the technology. The consequences are that the body barely recovers. As the figure shows, employees are increasingly communicating digitally.

technostress-reize
Employees are surrounded by digital technologies (Image from the study by Lindner and Greff 2018)

A study by the Hans Böckler Foundation shows that the larger the
Technostress, the worse mental health is. Consequences are: dissatisfaction, overwork, irritability and unreliability, which lead to permanent stress. The effects of stress vary from person to person but are in any case harmful to health. The consequences are serious illnesses.

Reading tip: Disadvantages in digitalization in the workplace

Risk of over-reliance by self-organization

Another risk is that home office and work-life balance also place increased demands on employees. If a manager has previously planned task distribution and core working hours, the employee must do so himself today. As one manager said in the Roundtable:

Not everyone wants to organize themselves and be creative. Some people just want a work instruction and then go home.

Quote from the Roundtable by Dominic Lindner of a manager from the pharmaceutical industry

The conclusion is that not every employee wants to work completely digitally and agilely, as the increased self-organization is not always desired. It should therefore be evaluated individually for each employee. Permanent overwork in the workplace leads to stress, demotivation, grief, worries and tension. The work is no longer fun, but is becoming more and more an overload.

Reading tip: Mindfulness in digitalization

Conclusion

The paper includes studies on agile methods, new office concepts, remote work and technology in companies. The theoretical findings are then illustrated by a practical example and implications for the health of employees are given. In summary, the implications are:

  • Work-Life Balance can promote employee health and strengthen motivation.
  • Strict processes and guidelines lead to stress and frustration, which can be prevented by agile methods.
  • New office concepts are a good way to combat long sitting and promote creativity.
  • New office concepts demand a higher self-organization of employees and not everyone wants to do so.
  • Digital work can promote overstimulation and technostress.

Tip:I am also giving lectures on this subject.

Image source: Background photo created by senivpetro – de.freepik.com

Genderhinweis: Ich habe zur leichteren Lesbarkeit die männliche Form verwendet. Sofern keine explizite Unterscheidung getroffen wird, sind daher stets sowohl Frauen, Diverse als auch Männer sowie Menschen jeder Herkunft und Nation gemeint. Lesen Sie mehr dazu.

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I blog about the impact of digitalization on our working environment. For this purpose, I present content from science in a practical way and show helpful tips from my everyday work. I am a manager in an SME myself and I wrote my doctoral thesis at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg at the chair of IT Management.

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