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What has Quality of Working Life got to do with it?

Organisational Effectiveness, that is. Well, in short, everything! So what is Quality of Working Life (QoWL)? And how can understanding the key elements of QoWL improve business performance?

With no universally accepted definition of QoWL and a wide range of views about what exactly QoWL is comprised of, understanding the importance of it and doing anything about it is challenging. There is a long history of academic research into the subject, but little has been translated into practical actions an organisation might take to address deficits. Add to that the fact that an organisation first needs to measure where its current level of QoWL is to identify which aspects to tackle first for maximum impact. Having written a Ph.D. in the subject, this reflection (and those to follow) shares some of my thoughts around the subject.

“an individuals’ job-related well-being and the extent to which he is satisfied with the rewards, fulfilment [in the] job and enjoys the absence of stress and other negative personal consequences”

So, let’s start with a definition (accepting that it may not be universally accepted of course!) Shamir and Salomon (1985)* define QoWL as “an individuals’ job-related well-being and the extent to which he is satisfied with the rewards, fulfilment [in the] job and enjoys the absence of stress and other negative personal consequences”. If we break this definition down, it comprises both elements of positive contributors and the absence of negative outcomes. What we know about QoWL is that it appears to be primarily a model of attrition, by which I mean that having more of something will not necessarily result in greater satisfaction, but the absence of an element (or the perception that an element you once had is being reduced, or removed) will result in increased dissatisfaction.  For example, getting a pay rise is always great, however, after a couple of months at the new level of pay it becomes the norm and the satisfaction with it declines back to the level it was at previously. However, having your pay cut is going to cause significant upset!

There is also significant debate about which aspects of working life may or may not contribute to (or indeed erode) our sense of good QoWL. My own research sought to work through the plethora of suggested QoWL elements to establish which are most important to people and whether the level of importance we ascribe to each element is universal or individual. What resulted was a fairly consistent view on which elements have an impact, with the caveat that the degree to which these elements influence QoWL is more individual (and in some instances related to aspects like the stage a person is at in their career and/or personal life). But more about these elements in later reflections.

So how does QoWL impact organisational effectiveness?

It goes back to my previous reflection – recognising and valuing individuality in our people and really getting to know them enables us to understand what motivates them and what is likely to positively impact their QoWL. Good QoWL results in happy, creative, motivated employees and happy employees work hard for us and ultimately create good business performance and happy customers. The caveat here (there is always a caveat!) is that this recognition of individuality also needs to reflect fairness between employees (perceptions of unfair treatment will erode QoWL). So it is a careful balance – how to best motivate our individuals for great collective performance, whilst still ensuring that our people feel they are fairly treated.

Additionally, the elements of QoWL are interdependent – they can impact each other. So where one element of QoWL might be lower than an individual would like, other elements may counteract the overall impact of the element perceived to be lacking.

This is a huge subject and I hope this reflection has given you a little foundation insight. Tune in again for reflections on what I have found to be the core elements of QoWL:

·     Relationship with your manager

·     Development and training

·     Flexible working arrangements

·     Job satisfaction

·     Work-life balance

·     Pay and benefits

·     Colleague support and team work

·     Fair treatment and equity

*Shamir, B., & Salomon. I., (1985). Work-at-Home and the Quality of Working Life. Academy of Management Review, 10(3), 455-464.

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