Sustainable Working in the Era of Digital Transformation

Are sustainability and digitalization compatible in the workplace? Definitely! Human resources experts Prof. Jutta Rump and Dr. Sonia Hornberger introduce some sustainable approaches that make a successful balancing act between efficient working and a healthy environment possible.

07/26/2019 Reading Time: 4 min

Dr. habil. Sonia Hornberger und Prof. Dr. Jutta Rump

Key factors for sustainable work

“Are you passionate about what you do?” asks Jutta Rump, director of the Institut für Beschäftigung und Employability in Ludwigshafen (IBE) in Ludwigshafen, Germany. Anyone who finds it difficult to answer this crucial question can look to the “magic triangle of employability” for guidance:

  • Does the employer recognize the employee’s skills and support their development in the context of the person’s future career?
  • Do employees feel that the company values them sufficiently, and can they put their qualifications to good use?
  • Do we take responsibility for our health and our well-being, and does the employer support these efforts?

When the answers to these questions are "no," then you can hardly be expected to enjoy going to work. But how can that be prevented?

Participation and identity are both key terms and possible solutions. It is essential that employees identify with their work, their employer, and their co-workers. It is also important that their work leaves them enough room to develop their own skills. The compatibility of health and personal development in the workplace is also clearly reflected in the trending developments in the job market.

Prof. Dr. Jutta Rump

Prof. Jutta Rump

Jutta Rump is director of the Institut für Beschäftigung und Employability in Ludwigshafen (IBE) in Ludwigshafen, Germany. She also works as a professor of general business economics with a focus on international human resources management and organizational development at Ludwigshafen University of Business and Society.

Rump is one of the most important professors of personnel management in the German-speaking world. In 2019, she was once again named one of the 40 leading people in HR in Germany.

This trending development is also Sonia Hornberger’s area of interest. She deals with HR strategy and innovation at Audi and summarizes the most important mega-trends in her field of work, as well as the challenges and opportunities they present, as follows:

1. Demographics

Digitalization is presenting employers with many new challenges, and forecasts indicate that there are more to come. 

Companies have a high demand for specialists in the digital field. Many companies provide employees with training to prepare them for the new challenges presented by digitalization. However, experts already expect that it will not be possible to meet the demand for specially-qualified, skilled employees in Germany in the long-term. Why? The baby boomer generation is retiring while, at the same time, the birth rate is decreasing.

2. New fields of work

We are likely to face a heavy decline in administrative jobs, for example in the fields of data entry and accounting. In turn, there will be an enormous rise in the fields of IT and technology. In the course of this transition, social competences will become an increasingly important factor. “Digital networking does not make social and emotional skills replaceable. In fact, they are becoming all the more important,” says Sonia Hornberger.

3. Changing values

While health and our treatment of nature are already among the most important values, sustainability is also of ever-increasing importance. “Active sustainability” is a central concept here. The younger generation of “global shapers,” in particular, wants to be involved in actions, decisions, and discussions. The level of participation is essential. And it should ideally take place in a sustainable company.

There is plenty of room for that at Audi, with initiatives ranging from the company’s own academy all the way to the Denkwerkstatt , where concentrated agile working methods make it possible to quickly generate usable innovations. And the opportunity to work remotely also creates space for self-organization - in coordination with the team lead.

Dr. habil. Sonia Hornberger

Dr. habil. Sonia Hornberger

Sonia Hornberger has been working in Audi’s HR department since 2004. After obtaining her degree in business economics with a focus on human resources management from the University of Economics in Bratislava, she spent 16 years researching the topic of human resources. She earned a doctorate and obtained qualification as a professor of work science and human resources from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). She joined Audi in 2004, where she is responsible for HR trend analyses. She has been working in the field of HR strategy and innovation since 2019.

Creating identity, eliminating heteronomy

“Away from the intrapersonal approach and toward the interpersonal approach!”

Prof. Jutta Rump

The demands that the digital transformation brings with it are multi-faceted: achieve maximum creativity in the minimum amount of time; act with technical and emotional competence; maintain current knowledge and values, but keep looking ahead. Management and employees are all faced with common challenges.

“The interesting thing is that many of us have these skills. We use them at home,” explains Jutta Rump. Parents, for example, have to navigate the whole spectrum of issues in their family lives - from organization all the way to frustration management.

“Why should we leave these basic principles at the door every morning when the shift begins?” asks Rump. She concludes: “It’s like a mirror image of heteronomy and autonomy.” When there is no opportunity to get involved, you hold back your own skills. You make use of your skills only to the extent that you need them. But if you have the opportunity to get involved, it encourages your own creativity and innovation. It also increases your willingness and ability to change and learn, or to overcome difficult situations.

To make sure that everyone has the chance to make use of their full potential, it can be helpful to organize projects so that they rest on more than one set of shoulders. This lets each employee work on tasks that fit their qualifications and make use of their strengths. At the same time, the demands of the project will be fully met.

Identification is the central currency for employee retention

Prof. Jutta Rump

Progress vs. balance — a healthy level of sustainability in the company

Agile working, Scrum, design thinking: The digital transformation has introduced many exciting working methods. At the same time, it comes with the challenge of maintaining balance in the stream of constant change and of successfully achieving your goals. 

“This makes it all the more important to have a fixed anchor point,” Jutta Rump postulates. We aren’t capable of focusing on uncertainty. That means that when we can’t orient ourselves on the processes and structures - the “hard facts” - it’s all the more important to find orientation in the “soft facts”: in values, authenticity, and inclusion. It’s only then “that we can hit the streets every day with full horsepower,” says Rump. When we can identify with our work and our team, as well as the company. “People will commit to that in the future. And that is a key element of sustainability in corporate politics.”

Sustainable Development Goals


Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations (SDGs) describe 17 global goals for sustainable development. With our comprehensive and sustainable measures in the field of human resource management, Audi is contributing toward the goals “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” (SDG 3) and “Decent work and economic growth” (SDG 8).

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