Social Health – or the big question, what does digital work do to our health?

A Barmer study conducted by the University of St. Gallen examined the impact of the digitalization of the working world on employee health.

Social health is primarily about promoting social relationships and healthy behavior in addition to physical and mental health.

Social Health: Long-term survey shows development over time

Over a period of three and a half years, around 8,000 employed people take part in a survey every six months, which is implemented in a total of eight waves. The respondents represent a representative cross-section of the population and are basically able to do their work on the move. Employees indicated that approximately two-thirds of their work is suitable for mobile working. The desired level of mobile work is stated as approximately three days. This is also in line with other studies. The second report is currently available; the study was launched in 2020.

Corporate health is considered at three levels in the current report: individual health, team collaboration and leadership behaviors, and corporate orchestration and overall alignment. One of the big challenges over the past two years has been that social sharing has fallen by the wayside, so the health circle has been expanded to include social health (e.g., work relationships) in addition to physical and mental health.

As a central statement on the study, Prof. Dr. Böhm from the University of St. Gallen announced: “Properly managed, digital change and more flexible work will make us healthier and more productive.

Boundaries between work and private life are important
Thus, this second report shows that job satisfaction, exhaustion and insecurity among mobile employees have not developed negatively over the past two years. On the other hand, it can be observed that not all respondents are equally successful in managing the boundaries between private and work life.

The study classifies so-called boundary management as important, which is differentiated in three dimensions:

Local boundary management (the conscious spatial separation of work and private areas): For example, only 46.6% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 use a separate room, while in the 60-99 age group the proportion is already 66.4% (the reason for this is that with higher age there is usually also more living space available)
Time boundary management (free division of working time), approximately equally distributed
Communicative boundary management (“rules of the game” with family, friends, employer, e.g. how availability is regulated), also about equally distributed.

Active boundary management leads to improved work ability after about six months

Digital leaders ensure higher job satisfaction
Employees rate their supervisors’ virtual leadership skills more positively over time (increasing from 51.3% from 2020 to 55.6% in 2022), although there are differences by industry (high increase in public administration, teaching. Low increase in sectors where virtual leadership skills were previously rated positively, such as IT).

It has also been proven that better digital leadership skills subsequently lead to increased job satisfaction.

How digital are companies?
The study distinguishes five stages of digital maturity for companies. 47% of companies are in the so-called implementation phase and are currently introducing digital working methods. Only 8% of the companies surveyed said they had reached the highest possible state of virtual collaboration for them (full virtuality).

If one increases the digital maturity level in the company, the stress level initially increases (due to the change). Once a sense of progress is achieved, the stress level drops again. Before it then drops due to the discontinuation of a sense of progress.

A positive correlation between digital maturity and work ability has been demonstrated.

Social Health: Recommendations
Classify which work should the employee do in the home office and which in the office?
Feel free to read our Hybrid Working Whitebook:

A holistic cross-company work policy doesn’t always make sense. Different areas have different requirements. One should delegate the work policy to the individual teams.
Furthermore, it makes sense to strengthen the so-called weak links between the organizational units through non-binding exchange opportunities, which do not necessarily have to be technical/content-related. Google has introduced shuttle connections for this purpose, for example, which pick up employees at home in the morning and bring them to work, but which travels different routes each time so that different colleagues always meet on the bus.
There is also great potential in asynchronous work, so that some meetings can be replaced by structured documentation, for example.

Social Health: Further information on the study
Podcast about the study

Study report