Discussed since the 1950s, quality of work life (QWL) has been identified as a personal reaction to the work environment and experience such as perceptions of control, satisfaction, involvement, commitment, work-life balance, and well-being in relation to someone’s job and organization, with no one generally accepted definition of the term. As such, it has been criticized for being a vague catchall concept.
Early on, little to no responsibility was placed on the organization for facilitating or hindering QWL. As industrial and organizational researchers began to identify links between employee perceptions of QWL and important organizational level outcomes such as absenteeism, turnover, and in some cases performance, things started to change and organizational interventions began to be designed specifically to improve QWL. Thus the term was popularized in the 1970s and 1980s, because many QWL interventions at the time had a general goal of improving individuals’ organizational perceptions and a secondary goal of improving productivity.
These interventions were focused on changes in the objective work environment that improve employees’ overall work attitudes. QWL interventions were aimed at empowering workers by increasing control and autonomy, providing increased recognition and rewards in an effort to improve overall well-being and overall positive reactions to work. Types of interventions varied from the provision of employee counseling services to team building and quality circles in the 1970s and job design and enrichment in the late 1970s and 1980s. These interventions further evolved in the 1990s into the provision of alternative work schedules and family-friendly workplace supports such as paid family leave and dependent care support (e.g., the provision of on- or off-site child care). Thus we can see that QWL interventions are aimed at having an impact on individual employees’ perceptions of the work environment as being positive, rewarding, and ultimately having an impact on enhanced well-being.
A primary outcome of QWL is job satisfaction. In addition, QWL interventions are expected to have an impact on the objective work context in terms of working conditions that are safe, secure, and provide adequate pay and benefits, leading to improved employee attitudes.
Here we discuss what we see as important outcomes of QWL. When a high QWL exists, we expect to see employees who are satisfied with their jobs; feel valued by their organization; are committed to the organization; and have low levels of conflicts between their work and family roles and a corresponding high level of enrichment, or positive spillover, between work and family. Furthermore, in addition to positive job attitudes and possibly job behaviors, we want to extend the outcomes to general health and well-being. In fact, recent research demonstrates positive relationships between such characteristics as job control and job demands and cardiovascular disease. Other research demonstrates relationships between work-family conflict and depression. Still other research demonstrates improved overall health when employees are happy on the job. Thus although positive job attitudes and behaviors are important, we urge researchers and practitioners not to forget about also improving our understanding of the link between QWL and enhanced physical and psychological health.
These ideas coincide with more recent attention given to the concept of the healthy workplace. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) has begun to recognize such organizations as healthy when they focus on employee well-being through the provision of supportive cultures and climates that value the importance of providing employees with low-stress work environments that contribute to employee health and well-being. The focus of the healthy workplace has moved away from the corporate bottom line toward viewing employees as the most valued resources. Furthermore, efforts by the APA and the National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health (NIOSH) have led to the development of a new interdisciplinary field that integrates occupational health disciplines and psychology and that is primarily concerned with improving the QWL for employees. Specifically, occupational health psychology is focused on the prevention of stress, injury, and illness in the workplace and the promotion of safety, health, and well-being of workers. Thus it appears that efforts in the science and professional realm have led to further developments in understanding QWL, while the term itself has lost much of its popularity. Rather, more contemporary concepts such as healthy workplaces, health promotion, work-life balance, and organizational well-being are characteristics of what we traditionally know as QWL.
In sum, although the term QWL is not commonly used today, the meaning is inherent in many aspects of organizational psychology. QWL is now more explicitly studied and discussed within the specific organizational structures and interventions that positively influence employee attitudes, health, and well-being.
- Loscocco, K. A., & Roschelle, A. R. (1991). Influences on the quality of work and nonwork life: Two decades in review. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 39, 182-225.
- Mirvis, P. H., & Lawler, E. E. (1984). Accounting for the quality of work life. Journal of Occupational Behaviour, 5(3), 197-212.
- Nadler, D. A., & Lawler, E. E. (1983). Quality of work life: Perspectives and directions. Organizational Dynamics, 77(3), 20-30.