Survey by the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) on the digitalisation of labour

By Sebastian Thelen, 14th November 2016
Half of respondents criticize increased workload

On 10th November 2016, the president of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), Reiner Hoffmann, together with the chairman of the IG BCE , Michael Vassiliadis, published the DGB-Index “Gute Arbeit 2016” (Good Labour 2016) in Berlin. 9,737 employees took part in the representative survey and were asked about their working conditions and specifically about the impact of digitalisation on their lives. “Digitalisation is currently exacerbating a problem that trade unions have been cautioning against for a long time: the increase of labour intensity followed by more pressure and stress”, DGB president Hoffmann warned. “82% of respondents claimed that digitalisation affects their daily work life – because of e-mails, smartphones or computer-controlled production planning and scheduling. Also, almost half of respondents claimed that this has led to an increase in workload”.

In fact, 46% of respondents claimed that the digital revolution has increased their workload and almost the same number of respondents (45%) said that their workload has remained the same. 9% of respondents reported that their workload has decreased. However, when it comes multitasking there are clear opinions: 54% felt that because of digitalisation, they were expected to be doing multiple things at once, whereas 39% disagreed with this view. Another interesting finding of the study was that 46% of participants perceived that they were being surveyed and controlled more since digitalisation. Half of participants felt that surveillance had stayed the same. Many participants cited another problem with the digital revolution: not being involved in decisions about the influence digital technology should have at work. Almost three-quarters of participants said they had no or almost no say in those decisions and only 26% felt they had been consulted.

“People want to enjoy the benefits of digitalisation, but we can see that this won’t happen by itself.”, Michael Vassiliadis, chairman of the IG BCE, concludes. “Of course it is in our interest for companies to profit from opportunities offered by industry 4.0 – such as the opportunities that come from more flexibility in production, research, development and administration. But if this technical progress causes social regression, because people are being squeezed out like lemons, then that is cause for alarm.”

Bernhard Rohleder, managing director of Bitkom, the Federal Association for IT and New Media, sees the opportunities above all. He claims that work will become more flexible and that new and interesting industries will be revealed. “Digitalisation also offers the opportunity to bring production and value creation – and thus jobs – back to Germany, for the first time in decades, because digitalisation increases productivity.”, Rohleder predicts. He also stresses the importance of being digitally competent before starting a career, otherwise employees will end up lacking necessary skills. “Companies need to understand that having the right training in digitalisation is not merely a nice bonus, but needs to be an obligatory aspect of every employee’s training.”, Rohleder says.