Interactive Work

Social interactions with customers, patients, clients, citizens, learners or similar groups are part and parcel of nine million employees’ daily work in Germany. Such social interactions in the context of paid employment are integral to many jobs and occupations. Many workers do not merely interact with groups outside their organisations, but also internally, for example with their colleagues or leaders. Existing research on interactive work underlines the particular challenges and demands coming along with this type of work Additionally, current developments like digitalisation have an impact on interactive work, too.

Interaktionsarbeit - personenbezogene Tätigkeit
© | LSOphoto

The ways in which interactive work is addressed and approached varies between different academic disciplines, countries, and occupational groups. Furthermore, interactive work is subject to changes in response to current societal and technological developments. Nevertheless, there is some common ground between the various kinds of jobs that involve interactive work.

Characteristics of Interactive Work

While there is no standard definition of interactive work, there are some defining features of this type of work.

  • Interactive work includes micro-level exchanges or social interactions between at least two people in the context of paid employment. At least one person is acting in a professional capacity (i.e. doing his/her job) while the other(s) can be considered the employee’s counterpart. Such social interactions at work may happen directly face to face, but could also be technically mediated or supported; some of these social interactions may take place only once while others may happen repeatedly over a period of time.
  • When performing interactive work, employees may need to exert influence over their counterpart’s physical or mental state and/or processes (e.g. perceptions, attitudes, intentions, feelings). In order to successfully perform interactive work, employees may need to find out what their counterpart needs, wishes, aims, and expects.

Interactive work can therefore be understood as a process in which people perceive each other reciprocally and interact socially in order to achieve particular aims. Our research puts the focus on the employees performing interactive work. As this type of work comes along with specific job demands, it should be designed in a humane and health-promoting way. Moreover, it requires a number of competences and appropriate training.

Designing Interactive Work in a humane way

Interactive work means working with other people: these people have their own interests, opinions, feelings, expectations, and concerns. Their conduct and actions are proactive and self-determined. Their experiences and behaviour have to be taken into consideration when performing interactive work – which is different from working with objects (e.g. operating a machine or bending a piece of steel).

Thus, interactive work often requires collaboration: the employee and his or her counterpart need to liaise for a particular purpose, to ‘co-produce’ or even ‘co-create’ a particular service. Depending on the concrete situation and context, this creates more or less strong relationships of mutual dependence. The quality and success of the performed interactive work is therefore not just in the hands of the employee.

These reflections underline why interactive work can be considered a specific type of work. It comes along with particular job demands that differ from other forms of work, such as industrial work. These jobs’ demands need to be taken into consideration when assessing the occupational hazards characterising interactive work.

On Interactive Work in Care and Digitalisation

Research Projects

Project numberF 2560 StatusOngoing Project Interactive work as analytical category in employment-related research: implications for risk assessment and work design

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Research ongoing

Project numberF 2503 StatusCompleted Project People-oriented tasks

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Research completed

Project numberF 2488 StatusCompleted Project Interaction work: effects and design of technological change

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Research completed


Search results

Interaction-related stressors and resources - development of a taxonomy to design interactive work in a humane and health-promoting way

Article 2023

Although various studies deal with the special demands of interactive work, these have only rarely been examined from an …

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Interaction-related stressors and resources of groundwork

Article 2023

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Interactive Work - Consideration of Specific Psychosocial Factors in Workplace Risk Assessments

Article 2023

The complete article can be purchased in German at the website of the Journal "Arbeitsmedizin, Sozialmedizin, Umweltmedizin", …

To the Publication

Safety and Health at Work - Reporting Year 2022 - Report on Accident Prevention at Work

Report 2023

The report Safety and Health at Work - Reporting Year 2022 (Sicherheit und Gesundheit bei der Arbeit - Berichtsjahr 2022) …

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Safety and Health at Work - Reporting Year 2021 - Report on Accident Prevention at Work

Report 2022

Every four years the Safety and Health at Work report is produced in an expanded, particularly comprehensive format - as has …

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Social interactions at work: why interactive work should be an analytical category in its own right

Article 2022

Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to make a conceptual argument for considering interactive work - i.e. work made up of …

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Person-related tasks in times of digital change: work characteristics and technology use

baua: Preprint 2021

Technological and social innovations have the potential to profoundly influence work systems and work tasks. In the current …

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Interactive (service) work: challenges for applied research

Article 2020

In recent decades, various occupations characterized by interactive work have been empirically investigated. In addition, …

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Emotional labor - a review on practical recommendations for job design

Article 2017

The complete article can be purchased in German at the website of the Journal "Zeitschrift für Arbeitswissenschaft" (2017)

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Website "Interactive Work"

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