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Here more freedom, there more pressure

In Germany, the work world is changing. How does that affect people? Here is what a psychologist has to say about home office and digitization.

New Work: work where and when you want to.
New Work: Arbeiten wo und wann man will. © Gpoint Studio

Julia Scharnhorst is a trained psychologist, Master of Public Health and certified psychotherapist. Her focus is on mental health in the workplace.

Mrs Scharnhorst, does home office give people in office jobs the greatest freedom?
For many, home office is very attractive: you no longer have to commute, you can work undisturbed and you can freely arrange your time. Child care can also be easier. On the other hand, there’s a risk of being cut off from the flow of information and from the team. Home office can promote the lone-wolf mentality. It therefore makes sense to move jobs into the homes of employees, but to limit this to a few days a week.

Julia Scharnhorst is an expert in health psychology
Julia Scharnhorst is an expert in health psychology © privat

Generation Y demands a better work-life balance. Companies are responding to this with more flexible working models. How far should this go?
A degree of freedom in the division of tasks and the choice of working time and place is good for mental health. Narrow guidelines and rigid structures cause more stress and mental disorders. However, companies must ensure that employees who work a lot at home are well integrated. It’s very important that home workers receive recognition and appreciation.

Not everything technically possible is compatible with humane job design.
Occupational psychologist Julia Scharnhorst

In future factory workers are more likely to work hand in hand with robots. What challenges do you see in digitization?
Digitization will have an impact on every type of workplace. It’s to be expected that the psychological stress will increase, because this will demand more concentration and attention from employees. There’s also the danger of excessive demands due to work intensification and too much information. Often digitization goes together with less autonomy because computers have already made all the decisions and humans only put these into action.

Digitization raises difficult ethical questions, because not everything technically possible is compatible with humane job design. Work and work performance are becoming easier to monitor. This increases the pressure on employees.

Where does Germany stand in an international comparison of modern work structures?
From a purely technical point of view, more options for digitization could already be implemented. But in Germany, labour protection laws and trade unions prevent too much monitoring and control of workers. In countries without such laws, it’s possible even to measure the time employees spend on the loo or for the computer to tell them every handgrip they have to make. In Germany, this form of performance monitoring isn’t allowed.

Interview: Martin Orth


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