Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Digitalisation as a Prospect for Work–Life Balance and Inclusion: A Natural Experiment in German Hospitals

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Abstract:  Digitalisation has a wide range of impacts on the workplace, such as enabling new work models with flexible work schedules, changing work content, or increasing workplace control. These changes directly affect not only individuals’ work but also their private lives. Scholars theorise that digitalisation either enables or impedes workers’ ability to maximise their work–life balance, which in turn fosters or inhibits the social inclusion of some societal groups and reduces or reproduces social inequalities. Focusing on the German healthcare sector, I explore the impact of using networked digital technologies on work–life balance, and whether it influences gender and educational inequalities. Pressured by government, economic concerns, and medical innovation, this sector is undergoing a transformation process that is expediting the introduction of new networked digital technologies. Thus, it provides an ideal setting for empirical investigation, as one core assumption about digitalisation is that technological innovation at work has societal consequences that must be individually mastered. To assess the relationship between digitalisation and work–life balance, I use survey data from hospital employees on the use of networked digital technologies and individual outcomes. The research is designed as a natural experiment. The treatment group comprises employees at a university hospital equipped with cutting‐edge networked digital technologies (N = 1,117); the control group comprises employees at several church‐owned hospitals (N = 415) with a level of digitalisation corresponding to the average for the sector. I first discuss confounders and then employ quantitative methods to establish a link between digitalisation and work–life balance, assess its direction, and address gender and educational inequalities.

Keywords:  digitalisation; Germany; healthcare; social inclusion; social inequality; work–life balance



© Sebastian Schongen. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.