Risk Factors and Leadership in a Digitalized Working World and Their Effects on Employees' Stress and Resources: Web-Based Questionnaire Study.J Med Internet Res. 2021 03 12; 23(3):e24906.JM
In today's world of work, the digitalization of work and communication processes is increasing, and will increase even further. This increase in digitalization at the workplace brings many new aspects of working life to light, such as working in virtual teams, mobile working, expectations of being constantly available, and the need for support in adapting and learning new digital tools. These changes to the workplace can contain risks that might harm the well-being of employees. Leaders can support the well-being of their employees in terms of protecting and replenishing their work-related resources to cope with critical work demands. This so-called health-promoting leadership could serve as a buffer between risk at the workplace and critical outcomes, such as stress, by amplifying work-related resources.
This study's aims were twofold. First, we wanted to investigate if risk factors related to higher digitalization at the workplace can be identified and if these risk factors have an impairing effect on the well-being of employees (eg, higher stress and lower resources). Second, we wanted to investigate if the health-impairing effects of these risk factors can be reduced by health-promoting leadership.
A total of 1412 employees from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland took part in this online study and provided information on their perceived risks at the workplace, their leaders' health-promoting behaviors, and their work-related stress and resources.
The results of a hierarchical regression analysis showed that all four risk factors of digital work (distributed team work, mobile work, constant availability, and inefficient technical support) were related to higher stress at the workplace. In addition, distributed team work and inefficient technical support were associated with lower work-related resources. A possible buffer effect of health-promoting leadership between these risks and employee well-being was visible for inefficient technical support. In particular, in the case of having fewer support opportunities in learning and using digital tools, leaders could weaken the potential critical effects on stress. As for the other risk factors, leaders might engage in a different leadership behavior to improve their employees' well-being, as the physical distance between leaders and employees in virtual team work or mobile work could make health-promoting leadership more difficult.
In a digitalized working world, solutions are needed to create working conditions that benefit employees. The results of this study strongly support the importance of investigating risk factors associated with an increase in digitalization at the workplace in addition to traditional risk factors. As for leadership, leaders need to show leadership behavior adapted to a digitalized workplace in order to reduce employee stress and increase work-related resources.