The impact of digital work on workers and society

The impact of digital work on workers and society

A key European publication on working post pandemic.  Findings include implications for managers and the Autonomy Paradox.

Together with IRS Italy and Milieu, the Tavistock Institute conducted an EU-wide study on the impact of digital work on workers and society for the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. The study was chosen as one of the key publications of the European Union in their Autumn 2021 catalogue which lists some of the most popular, recent titles from their Publications Office.

The impact of teleworking and digital work on workers and society focuses on surveillance and monitoring, as well as on the mental health of workers. Amongst the many findings, almost all the national stakeholders interviewed in the five countries believe that teleworking will be a permanent feature of post-pandemic working life, although with less intensity.

That “when the restrictions imposed by the pandemic end, hybrid forms of telework will predominate, as these arrangements are preferred by workers”.  However, “the extensive use of telework poses a number of challenges and requires a re-think of the way work is performed, co-ordinated, and regulated”.

And the “effects of teleworking for companies depend on the capacity of managers to effectively engage and motivate teleworkers.  This requires a major shift in organisational cultures towards managing by results (as opposed to inputs, eg office attendance) and establishing trust-based relationships, which may be quite challenging.

It talks about the Autonomy Paradox – the idea that the flexibility and greater autonomy associated with teleworking can also result in a range of adverse effects for the mental and physical well-being of workers.

This concept means that although higher levels of autonomy and flexibility for workers can have positive effects, such as enhancing job satisfaction and improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities, older workers, women with care responsibilities and people living in rural areas.  This autonomy can also have negative effects, such as increased work intensification, longer and more irregular working hours, higher stress levels and a disrupted work-life balance (Eurofound and ILO, 2017).  Long working hours and the sense of isolation associated with teleworking, together with the increased use of online monitoring and surveillance methods, may also negatively affect the mental health of teleworkers, besides raising privacy concerns.  Lack of space and ergonomically sound equipment may increase the physical health risks for teleworkers.

The study analyses recent trends in teleworking, its impacts on workers, employers, and society, and the challenges for policymaking.  It provides an overview of the main legislative and policy measures adopted at EU and national level, in order to identify possible policy actions at EU level.  The study is based on an extensive literature review, a web survey, interviews with representatives of European and national stakeholders, and five case studies from EU countries: Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Romania.

Project Team: Kari Hadjivassiliou, Anna Sophie Hahne, Kerstin Junge, David Drabble, Eliat Aram

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