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What’s quality of life at work, and why does it matter?

September 19, 2022 • read

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What’s quality of life at work, and why does it matter?

“While having employment is itself vital to people’s health and well-being, the quality of people’s work is also a major factor in helping people to stay healthy and happy.”
The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, 2017  

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work. A Gettysburg College report claims that most adults today will spend more than 90,000 hours – that’s a full third of their lives – working. From that perspective, it’s easy to see why employees would want to feel good about the time they spend at work.

In recent years, challenges brought on by labour shortages and recruitment issues have also made quality of life at work a key issue for organizations. Gauging quality of life in the workplace can help employers diagnose issues related to morale, efficiency, and productivity while improving work-life balance can support talent retention and loyalty.

As organizations move towards trying to improve quality of life in their workplace (often referred to as “QWL”), they often realize that this is a complex and multifaceted issue, with many interrelated dimensions. As a result, this is an issue that’s best addressed holistically.

So where should smart organizations invest their budget and energy to improve quality of life at work? Here’s everything you need to know about QWL, including the rationale behind it and why it matters.

How to define good quality of life at work

Quality of life at work is a term that’s often used to describe the broader job-related experience of an employee, which encompasses the company culture, general working conditions, how interested an employee is in their work tasks, how involved an employee feels, the degree of autonomy and accountability they have, and the recognition they get for the work they’ve done, amongst many other factors. 

As a concept, quality of life at work tends to focus on the employee as a person, rather than just the work they’re doing. It differs from the more general concept of quality of life, though the two are related, as one feeds the other.

Multiple studies have shown that a lack of quality of life at work is linked to higher levels of work-related stress, burnout, and anxiety, which in turn lead to lower job performance and significant costs for organizations. 

Research has also shown that when organizations implement quality of life at work programs, job performance improves. By giving workers more flexibility and permission to disconnect after hours, companies tend to have employees who are more satisfied with their jobs, more engaged, less likely to quit, and in better health both physically and mentally. 

Simply put, quality of life at work can lead to quality of business. In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, a leading expert on happiness, success, and potential, showcases research that indicates happiness at work can increase sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19%. Linking happiness at work to employee engagement, Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace found that companies with engaged workers report 23% higher profits than companies with unemployed workers. 

One way to implement a quality of life at work initiative in your organization is to link the improvement of working conditions for employees with the company’s overall performance. These two elements can go hand in hand, satisfying the expectations of employees while delivering results for employers. 

Here are other avenues to help improve quality of life at work for employees.

Find ways to limit hours

A 2016 study showed that employees who use a mobile device for work during family time experienced more conflicts at home and higher rates of burnout, often leading to a decreased commitment to their employer. The use of mobile devices outside of regular work hours also meant the spouses of employees viewed their partner’s employers in a more negative light, increasing the likelihood of the employee quitting.

With more employees today working remotely, workers may feel pressured to respond to messages at odd hours or as soon as they arrive. While many employees who engage in after-hours work are well-intentioned, this isn’t a beneficial way to find work-life balance, and their dedication may make other employees feel like they also need to respond to their messages 24/7. This creates a negative feedback loop that can increase rates of burnout, impact absenteeism and employee turnover, and harm company culture. 

Instead, leaders and managers should eliminate this source of stress at the workplace, encouraging employees to disconnect after hours and regularly remind them of the value of managing their personal life and professional life. While some provinces like Ontario have begun implementing “right to disconnect” laws, efforts to encourage employees to limit their hours are always more effective when they’re an integral part of a company’s culture.

Acknowledge hard work

Your organization’s rewards and recognition system should be designed to ensure employees regularly receive both material and psychological rewards for their hard work. While some organizations focus heavily on providing material rewards, like gift cards, sometimes, a simple, public, timely “Great job” from the right leader can go a long way in making an employee feel seen, appreciated, and valued.

Rewards and recognition can be a tremendous source of motivation for your team, so make sure they have a place in your organization’s culture to improve employee satisfaction

Change routines to re-energize employees

Allow employees to tackle new challenges by switching up their responsibilities from time to time. A useful tool for managers here is the “plate exercise.” When a full-time employee leaves, managers can use this opportunity to ask the remaining team members to imagine their current responsibilities as if they’re on a big plate in front of them. What responsibilities would they remove from their plate to reduce stress and improve quality of life? What responsibilities would they add?

Not everyone will end up with their ideal plate, but an exercise like this can help rotate roles and responsibilities and prevent processes from becoming too mechanical and repetitive. After a while, everyone needs new challenges. 

Invest in employee development

Establishing a career development plan for each worker can help provide your employees broader goals that go far beyond short-term projects and daily responsibilities. Asking employees to co-design with their manager a detailed career development plan that’s regularly discussed and revisited can help create a clear sense of purpose, direction, and momentum.

Moreover, it shows employees that your organization cares greatly about their growth and success, and that it views developing new skills as a net positive. Try providing your employees with a generous learning and personal development budget that encourages growth and skills development. You can even organize quarterly “show and tell” presentations where employees are given the opportunity to share with their colleagues something they’ve learned recently by completing an online course or reading books or websites about a topic of their choice that relates to their career.

Build a culture of care, trust, and flexibility

Prioritizing health and wellness can help greatly improve quality of life at work and work-life balance for employees. As a starting point, try adding a complete 24/7 virtual care solution like Maple to your benefits package. A well-being program like Maple can support the overall health of your employees and their family members while maximizing flexibility.

You can also build a culture of care, trust, and flexibility by giving employees a little more freedom in how they determine their schedule, including when and how they work, and emphasizing results and completed projects instead of merely the number of hours worked. This process can also create resilient teams that learn how to keep moving forward, even when one team member is missing or absent.

Lastly, your organization should emphasize trust, transparency, and psychological safety at every level. When employees feel trusted, valued, and respected, they tend to develop a strong psychological contract with their employer, which can increase their commitment to the organization.  

Managers aren’t always able to share everything they know with their teams, but maintaining communication and being as transparent as possible remains an important part of building a culture of trust. It also reduces stress and helps employees navigate ambiguity. Unfortunately, it appears many organizations can still do more to improve in this area, as only 40% of employees report that they are well informed about their company’s goals, strategies, and tactics, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Reinventing quality of life at work

As we’ve shown, there’s plenty organizations can do to help support their team’s quality of life at work, creating a healthy workplace culture and retaining employees along the way. Improving quality of life in the workplace will likely require some creativity and outside-the-box thinking, but the impact of these initiatives can be far-reaching and well worth your time and energy. 

If you’d like to speak with a member of our team about employee wellness, the impact of a quality virtual care solution on employee health and well-being, and how to bring your employee benefits to the next level, please reach out. We’d be happy to share our insights with you as Canada’s leading virtual care platform.

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