Digital Change as a Challenge for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises
20 July 2017
Growing pressure from deadlines, floods of information and constant availability: these impacts of digitisation and demographic change pose new challenges for management in the field of human resources and health. And they particularly affect small and medium-size businesses. Consequently, HR managers and CEOs recognize the urgent need to train staff to handle digital technologies, and to include health issues in the planning of work. These findings stem from an interview-based study recently presented by a research team from Heidelberg University under the direction of the industrial and organisational psychologist Prof. Dr Karlheinz Sonntag. The interviews are part of a nation-wide project “Measures and Recommendations for Healthy Work Practices of Tomorrow” (MEgA).
“Changes in the world of work entail stress factors that can impair a healthy balance between work and leisure,” Prof. Sonntag explains. “In view of the omnipresence of digital applications, small and medium-size companies are facing the need to develop innovative approaches and schemes to guarantee the training and health of their employees.” What challenges do companies see on the way towards a strategic personnel and health management? That was the question the psychologists asked during their interviews with 88 managers and personnel managers from 62 companies all over Germany.
Training employees to handle digital technologies and equipping them with the necessary skills for a changing work environment – that is what company executives see as their central responsibility. That means dismantling staff reservations about the implementation of new IT technologies. Prof. Sonntag reports: “HR managers and CEOs regard employee scepticism about digitisation as an obstacle to innovation.” The interviewees also underline the need to develop new approaches to the flexible organisation of work. In their view, it makes sense to integrate existing flexibility schemes into a comprehensive programme of occupational health management and to make this part of corporate strategy.
The psychologists now intend to review the results of their survey in a more far-reaching quantitative study, in order to be able to draw up recommendations for companies about practical organisation. “The demands made on the executives are also increasing considerably,” says Prof. Sonntag. “They too have to get used to the challenges and conditions of new digital, flexible forms of work and play an active part in spearheading the change.”
“MEgA”, based at Heidelberg University’s Institute of Psychology, is the accompanying project of the funding priority " Preventive Measures for Safe and Healthy Work Practices of Tomorrow” initiated by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. It accompanies 30 collaborative projects with partners from industry and research, aiming to develop instruments and methods for prevention-oriented HR development and health management. It focuses mainly on innovative systems of assistance and new technologies, the analysis of mental strain at the workplace, and occupational health in the care and services sector. With this funding priority, the federal ministry is particularly concerned to provide support for small and medium-size businesses.