On the one hand, health is something personal that everyone likes to sort out themselves or with their doctor. On the other hand, the health of the workforce is an important economic factor. Dr. Joachim Stork, Head of Audi Health Care, and Peter Mosch, Chairman of the General Works Council, discuss occupational health management.
Mr Mosch, you’ve been at the Company for more than 25 years. Was health an issue for you when you joined Audi and how do you feel about it today?
Peter Mosch: In my younger days, I was barely aware of the issue of health. A lot has happened in that time, for example in production where many ergonomic improvements have been made. Or with regard to the issues of stress and mental strain, which we consciously deal with nowadays. Occupational health was and is one of the Works Council’s key tasks and today I am much more aware of it, of course.
Dr. Stork, you have around 30 years of experience as an occupational physician. If you take a look at the major issues in your profession – what has changed?
Dr. Joachim Stork: The focus in the 1980s was quite clearly on occupational safety – protecting employees against hazardous materials or heavy loads. Today there are additional issues, however: What about the subjective factors? Today it’s about reintegration, the employability of older employees and mental health in relation to work.
Mr Mosch, how does the Works Council approach these issues?
Peter Mosch: In the context of demographic change, we in the Works Council face the challenge of protecting employees’ health more effectively. As a result, we have set up our “Round Tables,” where the Works Council and the Company together endeavor to reintegrate people into work who return after a lengthy illness. We work constantly on optimizing and creating jobs for older employees and on the issue of mental health. The Works Council also calls for an appropriate company agreement to be reached.
How do people react to the services provided by the Health Care Department – could it be that some see this as “going too far,” and as a severe invasion of privacy?
Dr. Joachim Stork: There is great trust and confidence in health protection. People come to us with all kinds of issues that once they might have kept to themselves. I'm very grateful to the workforce for the trust they place in our work. Individual prevention in the form of the Checkup program is extremely well received, with a takeup rate of 90 percent. This is due to the fact that we invite employees at a convenient time. They can then say yes or no.
Peter Mosch: I believe the issue of health is becoming more and more important to the general public, and our workforce very much appreciates the health counseling provided in the Checkup. In my experience, the principle of voluntary participation is a major reason for the high take-up rate. I myself go regularly to these examinations as I receive valuable advice.
What about data protection and the duty of confidentiality?
Peter Mosch: I can assure you that the medical data are stored extremely securely. We have carried out several checks to ensure that no data can leave the Health Care Department. In our view, data protection is guaranteed.
Dr. Joachim Stork: We can draw the right conclusions from the large amount of – anonymized – health data we collect. This is a major difference compared with our work in past decades. So now it’s not only a case of protecting health against risks, but also protecting health through preventive management.
Are there any trends in employee health that cannot be remedied in the short term?
Peter Mosch: Increased pressure is one such problem. In production, for example: there is a risk that we will once again have more division of labor with less work content per cycle and with shorter cycle times. I am concerned about this development. Similar trends can be seen in the indirect area, where work volume and complexity are constantly rising.
Dr. Joachim Stork: My specialist field started looking at the issue of monotony and preventing heavy workloads some years ago. Today, however, it’s also a question of how employees can cope with the level of complexity if different models for different countries with different items of equipment are produced on the same assembly line. Here, ergonomic measures and the Audi Production System help, but we’ve certainly not found all the answers.
Where would you like to see Audi health management in ten or 20 years' time?
Dr. Joachim Stork: I’d like us not only to ask how work can be harmful to us, but also to consider how work can be good for our well-being, to give meaning to life. Despite the likelihood of illness as we grow older, there are more and more people who can and want to work for a long time. My second request would be for more consistent control loops in our work, from emergency medical care through to prevention.
Peter Mosch: I'd like health protection in a few years’ time to be seen on a par with other corporate goals, for example economic efficiency.
Live to work, or work to live?
Peter Mosch: Ideally, a balanced, healthy combination of the two. To achieve this, there’s no doubt that we have to strengthen preventative measures. And we should also take a closer look at leadership in our Company: What values determine the way we behave toward one another within the Company? How do we treat each other? Our managers can make a major contribution to the subject of health.