Current and future digital technologies, which are characterized by a great degree of interoperability, real-time capability, and modularity, have the potential to greatly impact workplaces and processes. The reason is that these technologies are more strongly interwoven with everyday work processes than previous technologies. Hence, they become an increasingly important research topic in the field of work design. To design motivating, challenging, and meaningful work, it is necessary to investigate how digital technologies might affect employees and their work as well as explore potential solutions to the challenges posed by digitalization. In three studies, the present work examines to what extent digitalization is associated with competency requirements and employee reactions, whether job rotation and task rotation could be effective in facilitating competency development and enhancing monotonous jobs, and how the effects of task rotation can be explained theoretically.
In a field study (Study 1) with N = 127 employees from 19 companies, we investigated the relationships between the digitalization level of a division (i.e., the extent to which the utilized technologies had certain characteristics, such as real-time information), the competencies required in that division, and several employee reactions (e.g., work engagement). By comparing two occupations that differed regarding their extent of cognitive versus manual tasks, we were able to examine whether digitalization had occupation-specific effects. Regression analyses revealed an indirect effect of the digitalization level via competency requirements on most employee reactions, moderated by the occupational context. In the occupation with mainly nonroutine cognitive tasks, a great digitalization level was associated with a greater degree of competency requirements. In the occupation with mainly nonroutine manual tasks, a great digitalization level was associated with a smaller degree of competency requirements. As a result, jobs with a high level of digitalization can either require more training due to greater competency requirements or necessitate an enhancement of jobs that have become undemanding and possibly monotonous due to lower competency requirements.
To address both cases, we meta-analytically investigated job rotation and task rotation as possible remedies in Study 2. The three-level meta-analysis on 56 studies (N = 284,086) revealed positive relationships between rotation and certain attitudinal (e.g., job satisfaction) and development-related (e.g., career success) outcomes, as well as outcomes concerning psychological health (e.g., less stress and burnout) and organizational performance (e.g., productivity). Relationships between rotation and physical health (e.g., fewer musculoskeletal complaints) were only positive when compared to high-intensity work. Task rotation was more strongly related to attitudes than job rotation, job rotation had stronger relationships with learning and development, psychological health, and organizational performance. A notable shortcoming of most included primary studies was that they had a correlational design and therefore did not allow causal inferences.
In Study 3, we combined the technology-supported work context of Study 1 with the knowledge about task rotation of Study 2 and experimentally investigated effects and explanatory mechanisms of task rotation as a technology feature. The study consisted of two consecutive experimental vignette studies (N1 = 135, N2 = 159), in which we described a work scenario where a digital assistance system either specified when to rotate between tasks or only supported work steps. Regression analyses confirmed the expected effects of task rotation on positive anticipated employee reactions (e.g., job satisfaction and positive affect). Additionally, we found evidence that these effects could be explained by the perceived work characteristics task variety, skill variety, and task identity, combined with the anticipated satisfaction of the need for competence. Contrary to our expectations, there were no individual differences in the effects of task and skill variety on employee reactions due to the participants’ openness to experience.
In sum, the present work advances our understanding of digitalization as well as job and task rotation and suggests that the combination of digitalization and rotation is a worthwhile approach to design current and future workplaces. Corresponding theoretical (e.g., explanations for job and task rotation effects) and practical implications (e.g., a recommendation on how to anticipate work design changes when implementing technologies) are discussed and directions for future work design research pointed out.