Study shows the impact on working practices

LB – 10/2022

The Policy Department for Economic, Scientific and Quality of Life Policies, on behalf of the European Parliament's Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL), has presented its overview of current research into the impact of digitisation on the workplace. It was mainly analyses of broad data sets as well as relevant case studies that were taken into consideration. The presentation dealt with developments in the field of platform working and the effects of modern information and communication technologies on mental and physical health.

Changes in the working world caused by new technologies

The growth and use of digital technologies has gained significant momentum as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only has remote, teleworking or platform working increased significantly but digital business models and processes are also moulding regular working environments far more today than ever before. The share of teleworking within the EU has remained constant at 18 per cent over the last two years. If the fact that not every sector and activity is suitable for this is taken into consideration, it is estimated that this share could still increase to up to 37 per cent of the workforce within the EU.  According to current findings the so-called "digital divide" did not widen during the pandemic.

Quo Vadis, Platform work?

Platform working has also expanded in all industries that are known to use it as a result of the pandemic. This includes delivery, transport and driving services as well as non-location based working such as translating written texts, analysing data sets or even business processes that can be outsourced. This has made a new type of global labour division possible; where job and task controlling is usually carried out "remotely". The problem here is that a large part of these activities take place below the radar of the national statistical offices. This means that there is a lack of reliable data for assessing the extent and impact of these new digital job and labour markets. In the conclusion reached by the overview study, studying the "algorithmic management" topic is especially recommended to legislators at both European and national levels as well as to employee representatives.

Health effects

The report also addresses the health consequences of working in the digital world. The results are ambivalent: For example, modern machines can help to relieve the strain in physically demanding jobs. At the same time they can also lead to higher job insecurity and fear of job losses or economic deterioration. However this fear seems to exist mainly "in the head", as the actual effects on the labour market or a decline in employment in occupations with physical workloads have still to be seen. With regard to psychosomatic symptoms, the increased use of information and communication technologies can lead to a reduction in prevalent back pain, while headaches occur more frequently.

Counteracting the threat of inequality

Even though concerns about job and employment losses due to automation have not been confirmed in the past, current developments in the artificial intelligence sector are now causing these fears to flare up again. These fears may not be entirely unfounded for people with low qualifications as digitisation in the workplace has a different impact on workers with different qualification levels: To date it has been seen that higher investment in digitisation in companies is accompanied by an increase in the employment of highly qualified staff on the one hand, but the employment of low- and medium-qualified routine workers has decreased on the other. Specific target-group training programmes could be a possible way of counteracting these inequalities.