The term quality of work life (QWL) refers to the degree of satisfaction and contentedness an employee experiences with respect to his or her job and the overall work situation. QWL has been linked with a number of positive outcomes both for individual workers and for employing organizations. QWL programs sprang from the humanistic theories of management that became popular in the 1950s and 1960s, all of which emerged from the human relations movement in management and industrial/organizational psychology. Examples of QWL goals and strategies suggested by these early theories include.
- Decrease the conflict between the employee and the organization. This goal may be achieved if the formal structure of the organization is changed to allow employees to be more active than passive, to be more independent than dependent, to assume a longer rather than shorter time perspective, and to hold positions that are at least equal to those of their peers.
- Enrich the job. Management can accomplish this step by, at least, increasing the number of tasks that employees have to perform and preferably giving them more control over their jobs.
- Use participative or employee-centered leadership. Employees must enjoy self-expression in the organization. The organizational structure should be modified to allow for group-centered leadership. The work unit should have responsibility for defining the group’s goals, evaluating behavior, and providing team direction. In addition, the work unit should experience rewards and punishments collectively.
During the early years of the movement, much research was conducted to document instances where QWL programs resulted in an increase in productivity and employee growth and self-development. Thus management’s efforts to satisfy the needs of the workers have been an impetus behind the QWL movement in management thought and practice. More recently, the trend in QWL research has emanated from two sources, with one source referred to as the management perspective and the other as the quality-of-life view.
QWL From a Management Perspective
Management scholars often do research on QWL initiatives where the program’s design is guided by management’s self-interest to promote profitability. Organizations have found that programs designed to increase job satisfaction and empower employees can increase employee productivity and job performance. In turn, higher levels of productivity and performance serve to increase the organization’s profitability. Based on this perspective, much research has focused on specific QWL programs to examine the effects of these programs on employee productivity as well as job satisfaction.
Research has shown that teamwork, characterized by reciprocal trust and respect among team members, serves to enhance employee productivity and job satisfaction. Teamwork can be induced through role clarification (clarifying and negotiating role expectations of each team member), problem solving (educating team members on how to solve problems by first defining the problem, followed by generating possible alternatives for corrective action, selecting the best alternative, implementing the corrective action, and monitoring the outcome of the corrective action), goal clarification and prioritization (the team is instructed to develop measurable performance goals and prioritize these goals), and conflict resolution (the team is taught how to resolve conflicts through a built-in process to review decisions, team members are induced to learn more about the specialty fields of one another through planned mutual instructions, roles are clarified, and greater communication and openness are encouraged).
Jobs generating higher levels of involvement involve parallel structures, also known as collateral structures, dualistic structures, or shadow structures. Jobs involved in parallel structures provide members with an alternative setting to address problems and propose innovative solutions free from the formal organization structure. Quality circles are an example of parallel structures. Quality circles consist of small groups of 13-15 employees who volunteer to meet periodically, usually once a week for an hour or so, to identify and solve productivity problems. These group members make recommendations for change, but decisions about implementation of their proposals are reserved for management. Research has shown that parallel structures and quality circles do play an important role in employee productivity and job satisfaction.
Research has shown that the ethical corporate mission and culture of an organization can influence employee productivity and job satisfaction. Employees believe that being associated with an ethical organization gives them a sense of meaning and purpose in their work. Examples of these organizations include the religious-based or values-based organizations where the founders or managers are guided by general religious or philosophical principles.
An organization’s work schedule has been researched as a QWL program affecting employee productivity and job satisfaction. Specifically, research has shown that matching the time preferences of employees with the time demands established by organizations is likely to enhance job performance and job satisfaction. The match between the individual’s ideal and actual time behaviors brings a sense of temporal symmetry in which the rhythm of people’s lives matches their preferred lifestyles. Time congruity serves to reduce work and nonwork role conflict and allows the individual to meet work and nonwork demands with minimal stress.
Substantial research has shown that participation in decision making and high-involvement programs contribute positively and significantly to work motivation and satisfaction. High-involvement programs are thought to be a conduit to help employees express their thoughts and feelings in important organizational decisions. As such, high-involvement programs serve to enhance person-environment fit in the work domain. Allowing employees to participate in important organizational decisions amounts to providing employees with greater work resources that help employees meet work demands more readily.
Job design is the process of defining and structuring job tasks and work arrangements to allow optimal accomplishment. This process may determine the amount of satisfaction that workers experience at work. The best job design (referred to as job enrichment) is one that meets organizational requirements for high performance, offers a good fit with employees’ skills and needs, and provides opportunities for job satisfaction. Research in this area has differentiated hygiene factors (or dissatisfiers that are in the job context such as pay) from motivators (or satisfiers that are in the job content—’the actual work that people do). Examples of motivators are work opportunities for achievement, recognition for good performance, work itself, responsibility, and advancement and growth. Building motivators into the job enriches the job and increases worker satisfaction and motivation to work.
Total quality management (TQM) has also been treated as a QWL program. TQM is an aspect of organizational control. The idea underlying TQM is that all members of the organization are committed to high quality results, continuous improvement, and customer satisfaction. TQM also prescribes employee involvement and empowerment. Research has shown that TQM plays an important role in job performance and employee satisfaction.
The policy to promote from within is yet another QWL program. Self-actualization is the desire to become anything that one is capable of becoming. Progressive firms engage in practices that aim to ensure that all employees have the opportunity to self-actualize. Promotion and career advancement are important in that regard. Progressive companies have promotion-from-within programs, which means that open positions are filled, whenever possible, by qualified candidates from within the company. Those companies typically hire at entry level and then train and develop personnel to promote them to higher levels of responsibility. People are hired at entry-level positions based on their potential for advancement within the company and on their having the right values. Research has shown that companies that have policies to promote from within have employees who are more productive and satisfied with their jobs than companies that do not have such policies. Also, progressive companies provide educational and training resources to help employees identify and develop their potential. This may be accomplished with programs of career planning, company internships, and tuition assistance.
There are many incentives plans that organizations use to reward their employees and satisfy employee needs for self-actualization, self-esteem, and social recognition. These include individual incentive programs, group incentive programs, profit-sharing plans, and gain-sharing programs. Research has shown that these programs do play a significant role in employee productivity and job satisfaction.
The goal of alternative work arrangements is to minimize work-family conflict and help employees balance the demands of their work and family lives. The most common type of work-family conflict is time-based conflict experienced when the time devoted to one role makes the fulfillment of the other difficult. Common programs that manipulate work arrangements include full-time work-at-home, part-time work-at-home, flextime, compressed workweek, and part-time work arrangements. Alternative work arrangements typically affect job satisfaction by reducing work-family conflict. Operationally speaking, alternative work arrangements attempt to restructure one’s job to allow for more flexibility in managing the hours devoted to work and the hours that are available for family commitments. These restructurings could include adjusting the employee’s arrival and departure times to and from work, restructuring hours at work in order for the employee to be at home at certain times, limiting the number of evenings per week where the employee is expected to work at the office, limiting weekend work at the office, limiting travel, and making special arrangements at work to attend to family needs.
With respect to employment benefits, many firms offer at least basic employment benefits to their employees, which play an important role in employee productivity and job satisfaction. Examples of employee benefits include health insurance, retirement/ pension benefits, and supplemental pay benefits.
Furthermore, there are many ancillary programs described in the QWL literature designed to meet employee nonwork needs. These include child care programs, elder care programs, fitness programs, social programs and events, employee assistance programs, educational subsidies, counseling services, credit union, and others. Among the lesser known QWL programs are lakefront vacations, weight loss programs, child adoption assistance, company country club memberships, tickets to cultural activities and events, lunch-and-learn programs, home assistance programs, subsidized employee transportation, food services, and executive perks.
QWL From a Quality-of-Life Perspective
While an economic orientation may remain a necessity for business organizations, it need not preclude a focus on overall employee well-being. QWL programs are organizational development efforts that result not only in job satisfaction but also life satisfaction. Thus, much research has been conducted to understand how specific QWL programs influence employee life satisfaction.
Specifically, this line of research has examined the spillover between job satisfaction and life satisfaction. Substantial research has documented the fact that job satisfaction is positively correlated with life satisfaction. People segment their feelings or compensate for divergent affective reactions across life domains (work life, family life, social life, etc.). Also, people experience reciprocal spillover between job satisfaction and life satisfaction. Research has shown that the spillover from one’s experience in a particular life domain to one’s satisfaction/dissatisfaction with life in general may be affected by a variety of moderators such as organizational commitment. That is, employees who have a higher level of organizational commitment tend to experience a greater spillover effect than those who expressed lower levels of commitment.
Interestingly, both job and life satisfactions share a substantial dispositional component. A top-down approach to the study of job and life satisfaction suggests that common traits (e.g., positive and negative affectivity) influence both. In fact, although personality removes a huge chunk of the variance from the job-life satisfaction relationship, the link still remains. Such traits may gauge the broader construct of life satisfaction. Life satisfaction is a higher order concept that encompasses domain satisfactions. It is interesting to note that situational influences on reports of life satisfaction—the bottom-up approach to the study of life satisfaction—have been found to account for a significant amount of variance in life satisfaction.
QWL research based on the quality-of-life perspective has indicated that a number of organizational factors can explain the job-life satisfaction link. One such factor is organizational structure. Bureaucratization is associated with an increase in job dissatisfaction and life dissatisfaction. That is, workers in a decentralized bureaucracy experience a greater spillover between job satisfaction and life satisfaction than workers in a centralized bureaucracy. Fostering decentralized bureaucracies allows workers to enjoy greater work discretion and lesser immediate supervision. Work discretion and low levels of supervision reduce work role stress, which in turn reduces negative affect and dissatisfaction in work life. This reduction of negative affect and dissatisfaction in the work domain serves to decrease negative affect in overall life through spillover, contributing to life satisfaction.
Another factor moderating the job-life satisfaction link is occupational status. Research has shown that different jobs carry different levels of social status, with clerical and sales scoring moderate in both social status and job satisfaction and unskilled car workers scoring lowest in both social status and job satisfaction. Spillover occurs between job satisfaction and life satisfaction moderated by occupational prestige. Specifically, occupational prestige is a poor predictor of both job and life satisfaction, except for the highest status occupations. High-prestige jobs often nourish self-esteem and generate positive affective experience (i.e., job satisfaction and life satisfaction) that is not generated by low-prestige jobs.
Research continues in the context of both programs of research—QWL from a management development perspective and from a quality-of-life perspective. Much more is needed to study the various QWL programs to better understand their effects not only on job performance and job satisfaction but also on life satisfaction. Different QWL programs tend to affect different role identities in various ways. Some are effective in generating more resources to facilitate the realization of role expectations. Some are effective in reducing conflict within a specific role identity or between two or more role identities. Others are designed to clarify and articulate role expectations to match work and nonwork demands.
- Career satisfaction
- Employee assistance programs
- Family-responsive workplace practices
- Job satisfaction
- Wellness and fitness programs
- Hackman, J. R. and Suttle, J. L. 1977. Improving Life at Work. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman.
- Judge, T. A. and Watanabe, S. 1993. “Another Look at the Job Satisfaction: Life Satisfaction Relationship.” Journal of Applied Psychology 78:939-948.
- Kabanoff, B. 1980. “Work and Nonwork: A Review of Models, Methods, and Findings.” Psychological Bulletin 88:60-77.
- Lawler, E. E., III. 1982. “Strategies for Improving the Quality of Work Life.” American Psychologist 37:486-493.
- Near, J. P., Rice, R. W. and Hunt, G. R. 1980. “The Relationship between Work and Nonwork Domains: A Review of Empirical Research.” Academy of Management Review 5:415-429.
- Petty, M. M., McGee, G. W. and Cavender, J. W. 1984. “A Meta-analysis of the Relationships between Individual Job Satisfaction and Individual Performance.” Academy of Management Review 9:712-721.
- Rain, J. S., Lane, I. M. and Steiner, D. D. 1991. “A Current Look at the Job Satisfaction/Life Satisfaction Relationship: Review and Future Considerations.” Human Relations 44:287-307.
- Rice, R. W., McFarlin, D. B., Hunt, R. G. and Near, J. 1985. “Organizational Work and the Perceived Quality of Life: Toward a Conceptual Model.” Academy of Management Review 10:296-310.
- Sirgy, M. J., Efraty, D., Siegel, P. and Lee, D-J. 2001. “A New Measure of Quality of Work Life (QWL) Based on Need Satisfaction and Spillover Theories.” Social Indicators Research 55:241-302.
- Staines, G. 1980. “Spillover versus Compensation: A Review of the Literature on the Relationship between Work and Nonwork.” Human Relations 33:111-129.
- Tait, M., Padgett, M. Y. and Baldwin, T. T. 1989. “Job and Life Satisfaction: A Re-evaluation of the Strength of the Relationship and Gender Effects as a Function of the Date of the Study.” Journal of Applied Psychology 74:502-507.