ResearchActively Shaping Digital and Demographic Change at Work

Press Release No. 122/2021
1 December 2021

Heidelberg work researchers analyse needs of employees of federal authorities

Like many companies, federal authorities face the challenge of actively shaping digital transformation in the working world and, at the same time, taking account of demographic change. Prof. Dr Karlheinz Sonntag from Heidelberg University’s Institute of Psychology is investigating the challenges arising from digitalisation and growing flexibility for the federal government as an employer. In that context, 3,380 employees in the top and upper echelons of federal authorities took part in a survey in summer this year. The online questionnaire is part of the project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) “Measures and Recommendations for Healthy Work Practices of Tomorrow” (MEgA) and gives information about the demands on personnel and health management, e.g. when designing work to be flexible spatially and timewise, or individually supporting a readiness to change and learn.

Information technology infrastructure has a central place with regard to successful digital transformation in the federal administration, as does professional support in initiating and implementing processes of change, explains Karlheinz Sonntag, whose field is the psychology of work and organisation. For example, a large share of those surveyed would like a new management culture that involves staff more in processes of change. At the same time, they come out in favour of introducing forms of work allowing for flexibility in time and space, such as working from home, or keeping working time accounts. In addition, the employees would like to see an effective knowledge management. Older employees who are about to retire should have the opportunity to show their successors the ropes and introduce them to their work situation.

From their analysis of the survey, the psychologists derive further fields of organisational design in which employees can be kept healthy, competent and motivated in future. According to Prof. Sonntag, it is extremely important to pursue a personnel development strategy, which gives the workers targeted support and at the same time ensures a transfer of knowledge. Sustainable health management is intended to foster the psychological wellbeing of the staff. For those working from home, too, there needs to be appropriate IT and ergonomic equipment – another result of the survey. “In order to keep on attracting, and retaining, sufficiently qualified and motivated staff, the federal government must create more attractive and flexible conditions for the employees,” Prof. Sonntag underlines.

Prof. Sonntag and his team have been exploring the changes in the world of work within the MEgA project since 2015. To that end, they surveyed employees, skilled workers and executives from different-sized companies, as well as staff members of government departments. The purpose of the project is, with the aid of expert interviews and an empirical foundation from the online questionnaires, to gain reliable information on what modern, healthy work can look like in future and how personnel and health management needs to be organised.