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Quality of work life

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Industrial & Organisational : Introduction : Personnel : Organizational psychology : Occupations: Work environment: Index : Outline

Quality of Working Life is a term that had been used to describe the broader job-related experience an individual has.

Whilst there has, for many years, been much research into job satisfaction (1), and, more recently, an interest has arisen into the broader concepts of stress and subjective well-being (2), the precise nature of the relationship between these concepts has still been little explored. Stress at work is often considered in isolation, wherein it is assessed on the basis that attention to an individual’s stress management skills or the sources of stress will prove to provide a good enough basis for effective intervention. Alternatively, job satisfaction may be assessed, so that action can be taken which will enhance an individual’s performance. Somewhere in all this, there is often an awareness of the greater context, whereupon the home-work context is considered, for example, and other factors, such as an individual’s personal characteristics, and the broader economic or cultural climate, might be seen as relevant. In this context, subjective well-being is seen as drawing upon both work and non-work aspects of life.

However, more complex models of an individuals experience in the workplace often appear to be set aside in an endeavour to simplify the process of trying to measuring “stress” or some similarly apparently discrete entity. It may be, however, that the consideration of the bigger, more complex picture is essential, if targeted, effective action is to be taken to address quality of working life or any of it’s sub-components in such a way as to produce real benefits, be they for the individual or the organisation.

Quality of working life has been differentiated from the broader concept of Quality of Life. To some degree, this may be overly simplistic, as Elizur and Shye,(1990)(3) concluded that quality of work performance is affected by Quality of Life as well as Quality of working life. However, it will be argued here that the specific attention to work-related aspects of quality of life is valid.

Whilst Quality of Life has been more widely studied (4), Quality of working life, remains relatively unexplored and unexplained. A review of the literature reveals relatively little on quality of working life. Where quality of working life has been explored, writers differ in their views on its’ core constituents.

It is argued that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts as regards Quality of working Life, and, therefore, the failure to attend to the bigger picture may lead to the failure of interventions which tackle only one aspect. A clearer understanding of the inter-relationship of the various facets of quality of working life offers the opportunity for improved analysis of cause and effect in the workplace.

This consideration of Quality of working Life as the greater context for various factors in the workplace, such as job satisfaction and stress, may offer opportunity for more cost-effective interventions in the workplace. The effective targeting of stress reduction, for example, may otherwise prove a hopeless task for employers pressured to take action to meet governmental requirements.

What is Quality of working life?

Various authors and researchers have proposed models of Quality of working life which include a wide range of factors. Selected models are reviewed below.

Hackman and Oldham (1976)(5) drew attention to what they described as psychological growth needs as relevant to the consideration of Quality of working life. Several such needs were identified; Skill variety, Task Identity, Task significance, Autonomy and Feedback. They suggested that such needs have to be addressed if employees are to experience high quality of working life.

In contrast to such theory based models, Taylor (1979)(6) more pragmatically identified the essential components of Quality of working life as; basic extrinsic job factors of wages, hours and working conditions, and the intrinsic job notions of the nature of the work itself. He suggested that a number of other aspects could be added, including; individual power, employee participation in the management, fairness and equity, social support, use of one’s present skills, self development, a meaningful future at work, social relevance of the work or product, effect on extra work activities. Taylor suggested that relevant Quality of working life concepts may vary according to organisation and employee group.

Warr and colleagues (1979)(7), in an investigation of Quality of working life, considered a range of apparently relevant factors, including work involvement, intrinsic job motivation, higher order need strength, perceived intrinsic job characteristics, job satisfaction, life satisfaction, happiness, and self-rated anxiety. They discussed a range of correlations derived from their work, such as those between work involvement and job satisfaction, intrinsic job motivation and job satisfaction, and perceived intrinsic job characteristics and job satisfaction. In particular, Warr et al. found evidence for a moderate association between total job satisfaction and total life satisfaction and happiness, with a less strong, but significant association with self-rated anxiety.

Thus, whilst some authors have emphasised the workplace aspects in Quality of working life, others have identified the relevance of personality factors, psychological well being, and broader concepts of happiness and life satisfaction.

Factors more obviously and directly affecting work have, however, served as the main focus of attention, as researchers have tried to tease out the important influences on Quality of working life in the workplace.

Mirvis and Lawler (1984)(8) suggested that Quality of working life was associated with satisfaction with wages, hours and working conditions, describing the “basic elements of a good quality of work life” as; safe work environment, equitable wages, equal employment opportunities and opportunities for advancement.

Baba and Jamal (1991)(9) listed what they described as typical indicators of quality of working life, including: job satisfaction, job involvement, work role ambiguity, work role conflict, work role overload, job stress, organisational commitment and turn-over intentions. Baba and Jamal also explored routinisation of job content, suggesting that this facet should be investigated as part of the concept of quality of working life.

Some have argued that quality of working life might vary between groups of workers. For example, Ellis and Pompli (2002)(10) identified a number of factors contributing to job dissatisfaction and quality of working life in nurses, including: Poor working environments, Resident aggression, Workload, Unable to deliver quality of care preferred, Balance of work and family, Shiftwork, Lack of involvement in decision making, Professional isolation, Lack of recognition, Poor relationships with supervisor/peers, Role conflict, Lack of opportunity to learn new skills.

Sirgy et al.; (2001)(11) suggested that the key factors in quality of working life are: Need satisfaction based on job requirements, Need satisfaction based on Work environment, Need satisfaction based on Supervisory behaviour, Need satisfaction based on Ancillary programmes, Organizational commitment. They defined quality of working life as satisfaction of these key needs through resources, activities, and outcomes stemming from participation in the workplace. Maslow’s needs were seen as relevant in underpinning this model, covering Health & safety, Economic and family, Social, Esteem, Actualisation, Knowledge and Aesthetics, although the relevance of non-work aspects is play down as attention is focussed on quality of work life rather than the broader concept of quality of life.

These attempts at defining quality of working life have included theoretical approaches, lists of identified factors, correlational analyses, with opinions varying as to whether such definitions and explanations can be both global, or need to be specific to each work setting.

Bearfield, (2003)(12) used 16 questions to examine quality of working life, and distinguished between causes of dissatisfaction in professionals, intermediate clerical, sales and service workers, indicating that different concerns might have to be addressed for different groups.

The distinction made between job satisfaction and dissatisfaction in quality of working life reflects the influence of job satisfaction theories. Herzberg at al., (1959)(13) used “Hygiene factors” and “Motivator factors” to distinguish between the separate causes of job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction. It has been suggested that Motivator factors are intrinsic to the job, that is; job content, the work itself, responsibility and advancement. The Hygiene factors or dissatisfaction-avoidance factors include aspects of the job environment such as interpersonal relationships, salary, working conditions and security. Of these latter, the most common cause of job dissatisfaction can be company policy and administration, whilst achievement can be the greatest source of extreme satisfaction.

An individual’s experience of satisfaction or dissatisfaction can be substantially rooted in their perception, rather than simply reflecting their “real world”. Further, an individual’s perception can be affected by relative comparison – am I paid as much as that person - and comparisons of internalised ideals, aspirations, and expectations, for example, with the individual’s current state (Lawler and Porter, 1966) (1).

In summary, where it has been considered, authors differ in their views on the core constituents of Quality of Working Life (e.g. Sirgy, Efraty, Siegel & Lee, 2001 (11) and Warr, Cook & Wall, 1979)(7).

It has generally been agreed however that Quality of Working Life is conceptually similar to well-being of employees but differs from job satisfaction which solely represents the workplace domain (Lawler, 1982)(15).

Quality of Working Life is not a unitary concept, but has been seen as incorporating a hierarchy of perspectives that not only include work-based factors such as job satisfaction, satisfaction with pay and relationships with work colleagues, but also factors that broadly reflect life satisfaction and general feelings of well-being (Danna & Griffin, 1999)(16). More recently, work-related stress and the relationship between work and non-work life domains (Loscocco & Roschelle, 1991)(17) have also been identified as factors that should conceptually be included in Quality of Working Life.

How can it be measured?

There are few recognised measures of quality of working life, and of those that exist few have evidence of validity and reliability, that is, there is a very limited literature based on peer reviewed evbaluations of available assessments. A recent statistical analysis of a new measure, the Work-Related Quality of Life scale (WRQoL)(18), indicates that this assessment device should prove to be a useful instrument, although further evaluation would be useful. The WRQoWL measure uses 6 core factors to explain most of the variation in an individuals quality of working life: Job and Career Satisfaction; Working Conditions; General Well-Being; Home-Work Interface; Stress at Work and Control at Work.

How can the concept be useful - does it matter?

Regular assessment of Quality of Working Life can potentially provide organisations with important information about the welfare of their employees, such as job satisfaction, general well-being, work-related stress and the home-work interface.

Worrall and Cooper (2006)(14) recently reported that a low level of well-being at work is estimated to cost about 5-10% of Gross National Product per annum, yet Quality of Working Life as a theoretical construct remains relatively unexplored and unexplained within the organisational psychology research literature.

A large chunk of most peoples’ lives will be spent at work. Most people recognise the importance of sleeping well, and actively try to enjoy the leisure time that they can snatch. But all too often, people tend to see work as something they just have to put up with, or even something they don’t even expect to enjoy.

Some of the factors used to measure quality of working life pick up on things that don’t actually make people feel good, but which seem to make people feel bad about work if those things are absent. For example, noise – if the place where someone works is too noisy, they might get frequent headaches, or find they can not concentrate, and so feel dissatisfied. But when it is quiet enough they don’t feel pleased or happy - they just don’t feel bad. This can apply to a range of factors that affect someone's working conditions.

Other things seem to be more likely to make people feel good about work and themselves once the basics are OK at work. Challenging work (not too little, not too much) can make them feel good. Similarly, opportunities for career progression and using their abilities can contribute to someone's quality of working life.

See alsoEdit


1. Lawler III E and Porter L, (1966). Managers pay and their satisfaction with their pay. Personnel Psychology. XIX 363-73

2. Mullarkey S, Wall T, Warr P, Clegg C & Stride C (1999) Eds.. Measures of Job Satisfaction, mental Health and Job-related Well-being. Inst Work psychol..

3. Elizur D & Shye S 1990 Quality of work life and its relation to quality of life. Applied psychology: An international review. 39 3 275-291

4. Taillefer,-Marie-Christine; Dupuis,-Gilles; Roberge,-Marie-Anne; Le-May,-Sylvie (2003) Health-related quality of life models: Systematic review of the literature. Social-Indicators-Research. Nov; Vol 64 (2): 293-323

5. Hackman J & Oldham G (1974) The Job Diagnostic Survey. New Haven: Yale University.

6. Taylor J C in Cooper, CL and Mumford, E (1979) The quality of working life in Western and Eastern Europe. ABP

7. Warr, P, Cook, J and Wall, T (1979) Scales for the measurement of some work attitudes and aspects of psychological well being. Journal of Occupational Psychology. 52, 129-148.

8. Mirvis, P.H. and Lawler, E.E. (1984) Accounting for the Quality of Work Life. Journal of Occupational Behaviour. 5. 197-212.

9. Baba, VV and Jamal, M (1991) Routinisation of job context and job content as related to employees quality of working life: a study of psychiatric nurses. Journal of organisational behaviour. 12. 379-386.

10.Ellis N & Pompli A 2002 Quality of working life for nurses. Commonwealth Dept of Health and Ageing. Canberra.

11. Sirgy, M. J., Efraty,, D., Siegel, P & Lee, D. (2001). A new measure of quality of work life (QoWL) based on need satisfaction and spillover theories. Social Indicators Research, 55, 241-302.

12. Bearfield, S (2003)Quality of Working Life. Aciirt Working paper 86. University of Sydney.

13. Herzberg F, Mausner B, & Snyderman B., (1959) The Motivation to Work. New York:Wiley.

14. Worrall, L. & Cooper, C. L. (2006). The Quality of Working Life: Managers’ health and well-being. Executive Report, Chartered Management Institute.

15. Lawler, E. E. (1982). Strategies for improving the quality of work life. American Psychologist, 37, 2005, 486-493.

16. Danna, K. & Griffin, R. W. (1999). Health and well-being in the workplace: A review and synthesis of the literature. Journal of Management, 25, 357-384.

17. Loscocco, K. A. & Roschelle, A. N. (1991). Influences on the Quality of Work and Nonwork Life: Two Decades in Review. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 39, 182-225.

18. Van Laar, D, Edwards, J & Easton, S (2007). The Work-Related Quality of Life scale for healthcare workers. Journal of Advanced Nursing, Volume 60, Number 3, pp. 325-333

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