The current change of white collar work in the German automotive industry

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2017)


Digital technologies, German automotive industry, New working methods, White collar work


In our paper we will describe how the implementation of new working methods and new digital technologies has been changing white collar work in the German automotive sector in the last four years. Office workplaces are being overwhelmed by terms like “standardization”, “automatization” and “process plans” (cf. Boes et al. 2014; Boes et al. 2016; Will-Zocholl 2012:179-181). Depending on the qualification level and the complexity of the work different types of rationalization processes have been established in these working areas. On the one hand, new working methods like “Lean Office” and “Agile Working” have been implemented in high potential white collar work areas. These new working forms have changed totally the daily work live of engineers and the work environment in the offices. On the other hand, in average and low qualification areas the work has been automatized by the implementation of digital technologies, centralized and outsourced completely. Tens of thousands white collar workers in the German automotive industry are involved directly in similar rationalization processes in their workplace (cf. Boes et al. 2014:49). Remarkably for the first time even high potentials like engineers are included in these kinds of processes (cf. Will-Zocholl 2012; Boes et al. 2014; Boes et al. 2016; Boes & Kämpf 2010). The German automotive industry, as a key industry, is very much cross-linked with the national economy, therefore it is conjecturable that rationalization processes in automotive companies could be a model for similar processes for companies in other economic sectors and therefore have a great impact on white collar work altogether. Furthermore, because of the international key role of the German automotive sector, also an international impact on the change of white collar work can be expected.

Based on a qualitative and explorative case study on the change of white collar work in a big German automotive company we want to demonstrate the current changes in the reviewed white collar work areas in our paper (cf. Pongratz & Trinczek 2010). The case study is based on 13 interviews with 14 people (cf. Medjedović 2010). All the 13 interviews are part of a research project funded by the Hans-Böckler-Foundation called „Lean im Büro – Neue Industrialisierungskonzepte für die Kopfarbeit und ihre Folgen für Arbeit und Beschäftigte“ (in English: Lean in the Office – New Concepts of Industrialization for Mental Work and their Consequences for Work and Employees). Five of the interviews we analyzed are in-depth interviews with employees (cf. Flick 2005, Lamnek 2005; Friedrichs 1990). We analyzed them by a content qualitative analysis (cf. Mayring 2011). The other eight which we analyzed are expert interviews with specialists and executive staff as well as members of the works council (cf. Meuser & Nagel 1991; Liebold & Trinczek 2002). Over and above the analysis of the 13 interviews we have made a document analysis based on seven of the company’s annual business reports which also described change processes in the company’s offices (cf. Kraimer 2011).

We want to summarize the results of our case study in our paper and thereby give a short overview on how different types of white collar work are currently undergoing a change. Beyond that we want to contextualize the empirical results by providing an insight in the current German scientific discussion on the changes of white collar work in the German automotive industry. Therefore we have chosen the following structure for the paper which consists of three chapters. The first chapter will be a short overview on the current changes of white collar work in the German automotive industry and how this is discussed in the social sciences. For exemplification we will show the specific situation in the reviewed company by introducing to the main aspects of our case study in the second chapter. Questions that are guide lining both chapters are:

  • Which strategies and goals are pursued by changing white collar work areas in the German automotive companies?
  • How are these changes actually performed and in what way is the daily work of employees and managers changing?
  • In what way are employees integrated in the change of processes and how do they experience the change processes?

Finally in the third and last chapter we want to discuss the expectations and questions concerning the changes of white collar work in the German automotive industry and their probable impacts on other automotive companies around the world.

(The research project was realized from 2013 to 2015 at the Institute for Social Science Research Munich under the direction of Prof. Dr. Andreas Boes. For further information have a look on the German website of the research project:

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