Taking employees’ fears seriously

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 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)

Digital transformation and the associated changes in operational processes can trigger fears among employees that have a negative impact on their engagement at work. Companies must actively counteract these fears to prevent transformation processes from failing. This is the conclusion of a study conducted by the Universities of Göttingen and Groningen on more than 1,000 employees in the finance organization of a multinational company in Germany. The results have been published in the Journal of Management Accounting Research.

New technical possibilities and more efficient processes - the pressure to change digitally is great in corporate finance departments. The automation of routine tasks or the use of new approaches to data analysis enable more efficient and effective workflows. Among employees, however, digital transformation can simultaneously give rise to fears. -Fears of digital transformation are not just about potential job losses, but also about a possible creeping loss of importance of one’s own skills or a departure from well-rehearsed routines," explain Michael Wolff and Yannik Gehrke from the University of Göttingen. -If such fears arise, the digital transformation threatens to fail due to a decline in employee motivation.

However, the research team also finds concrete starting points in the study for countering fears: a transformative leadership style, further training opportunities for employees and support for exchange among employees. Managers in particular have a crucial role to play here. -Leaders should act as role models, communicate digitization as a positive opportunity and inspire their employees," says the research team. At the same time, companies should offer the broadest possible range of training courses in the area of digitization so that employees do not perceive it as a threat but as an opportunity for personal development. In addition, companies should promote intensive exchange on digital topics between employees, as such peer effects not only allow knowledge to diffuse through the organization, but also reduce fears.

Original publication: Sebastian Firk, Yannik Gehrke, Michael Wolff. Digital Anxiety in the Finance Function: Consequences and Mitigating Factors. Journal of Management Accounting Research 2023. https://doi. org/10.2308/JMAR-2021­’056 .