Quality of work life (QWL): how and why to implement it?


Quality of work life (QWL) has received a lot of attention in recent years and is now a major concern for employers and employees.

In this article, we will examine QWL, its benefits and its theoretical underpinnings. Why is it currently the number one concern of professionals?

What is quality of work life (QWL)?

The scientific origins of the QWL concept:

  • The concept of quality of life at work appeared in France in the 1970s; it is the result of years of reflection and discussion, particularly on the position of the employee within the workplace. This is a response to the many criticisms of previous styles, such as Taylorism. After Maslow’s research and theories on what motivates people at work, the idea of

         QWL became particularly prevalent in the United States.

  • The term “QWL” was first used in 1972 at a conference in New York. Due to the widespread concern for the health and well-being of individuals at work, this event resulted in numerous definitions of the term, which have grown in importance.

The different definitions of QWL

Different definitions of the concept of QWL are provided by the ANACT (national agency for the improvement of working conditions):

  • “Quality of life at work is above all about work, working conditions, and whether or not they allow people to “do a good job” in a pleasant environment, within the parameters of its organization.”
  • “Quality of life at work refers to actions that make it possible to reconcile both the improvement of employees’ working conditions and the success of the company, particularly when its organizations are changing.”
  • “The concept of quality of life at work can be defined as a feeling of well-being at work felt both collectively and individually and encompassing the environment, the corporate culture, the interest of the work, the working conditions, the feeling of involvement, the degree of autonomy and responsibility, equality, the right to make mistakes granted to each person, the recognition and valuation of the work accomplished, etc.”

The difference between QWL and QWLC

In December 2020, a new National Interprofessional Agreement (ANI) on health at work was signed by the various social partners, which reformulates the desire to ensure health and safety at work.

ANACT wanted to bring back the essence of what should have been the QWL with its new “ANI” for 2020.

By enacting the QWL, the essential principles of a safe, healthy and safe working environment are reaffirmed, namely

  • the right balance between health at work and quality of life
  • The proximity of companies and occupational health services
  • Since the Covid-19 crisis, even greater emphasis has been placed on the prevention of occupational risks, particularly those related to psychosocial risks, occupational diseases and work-related accidents.

The notion of QWL allows us to refocus the discussion on the factors that create truly excellent working conditions.

The HR action plan is basically based, once again, on management, job retention, consideration of employees’ career development, change management, social interaction between employees, social discourse and the implementation of work organization.

This new acronym emphasizes the responsibility of employers for the health and safety of their employees. In the event of non-compliance, they may be held civilly liable.

How to improve the QWL?

Since the new national interprofessional agreement of December 9, 2020, we no longer speak of QWL but rather of QWLC. That said, this semantic progression is not exclusively linked to a question of terminology, the addition of the letter C of Conditions, gives more weight to the latter, which allows the implementation of projects involving time management.

This idea, born of an ongoing participatory discourse, is described as a “lever for health, job retention and the economic and social performance of the structure.” The goal is to increase employee engagement while raising the level of quality of work and the work environment.

QWL has several different areas of application. They concern the modification of managerial practices, the quality of missions, the environment, employability, evolution perspectives, training, equality or time balance.

The main themes :

  • Content and quality: Autonomy, clear and concise instructions, available tools, load sharing, etc.
  • Talent development: onboarding, skills upgrading, training plan, annual interview, etc.
  • Professional equality: between women and men, age pyramid, diversity and inclusion.
  • Work-life balance: Because of the flexibility available and the hybrid organizational models, it can be improved, for example by supporting a childcare system or by considering plans such as a four-day week.
  • Taking into account the environment: MSD, workstation layout, travel optimization, DUERP, premises layout…
  • The social climate: the role of the authorities, the social relations, the organization of meetings and internal events.
  • The managerial dimension: knowledge of the history and roles, project and meaning given, transparency of the remuneration policy…

Acting on QWL in 4 steps

To act on QWL, it is essential to take into account several steps, and this is one of the mandatory negotiation topics included in the regulations.

→ Let’s not forget that the deployment of QWL varies according to the profile of the talent, their expectations and requirements. Employees, managers and executives are all involved. It must also be adapted to each structure because it is closely linked to the working conditions and missions of the profession.

#1 Promote a participatory and multidisciplinary approach

The participation of all those who have the capacity to express themselves and act in its favor is necessary for the implementation of the QWL. It must, in fact, be part of a participatory dynamic.

The collective aspect is essential. All the actors present in the room must be involved, and a discussion on the issues and the means of action is the best way to proceed. In order to ensure an operational collective vision, the steering committee must integrate and represent all positions.

#2 Assessment of the current state

The company forms a steering committee, evaluates the perception of the psychological and physical health of the teams, and takes note of the existing systems, management, evolution perspectives and internal functioning.

The diagnosis resulting from the survey must be supported by relevant elements. Thus, at the end of the diagnosis, the DUERP can be updated and specific areas for improvement can be found.

#3 Experimentation and regular measurement

The organization is in a position to experiment, once the diagnosis has been made and conclusions drawn, while regularly measuring their impact, in a logic of constant improvement. These experiments must be measurable in the long term, in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the plan put in place.

To measure the QWL, we must analyze :

  • Perception indicators ( sense of belonging, satisfaction, understanding of expectations and missions…)
  • Operations (training, promotions, absenteeism and turnover rates, etc.)
  • Health indicators (illness, unfitness, etc.)
  • Demographic indicators

#4 Sustainability and deployment of the plan

The final step is to deploy the initiatives and sustain them over the long term.

Over time, actions must be organized, planned and executed. You are able to improve and modify them through the Test & Learn process.

The implementation of barometers or satisfaction surveys, for example, makes it possible to constantly evaluate the results and measure the impact on the field. This field of reflection must be continuously fed and questioned.

The objectives of the operations, their consequences and their impact must be communicated in order for the QWL method to be deployed in an adequate and sustainable manner. Raising awareness through communication is therefore a crucial first step.

Here are some examples of good practices:

  • Giving employees greater flexibility and agility (telecommuting, scheduling, hybrid mode, telecommuting).
  • Work towards development (training, career development, employability)
  • Guarantee the right to disconnect and respect it.
  • Distribute the workload and responsibilities fairly, to prevent and avoid burn-out.
  • Offer recognition, autonomy and visibility to employees.
  • Give meaning by defining the key values of the culture.
  • Take parenthood into consideration (childcare system, flexibility, etc.).
  • Redesigning spaces and offices.
  • Promote the quality of commitment (societal, environmental, etc.).

QWL an asset for your company

Improve overall productivity

Regardless of the position held within the company, recognition and well-being at work have a positive impact on the employees of the company, and this on their commitment, performance and team cohesion.

The improvement of working conditions is not only about maintaining good relations with employees, but also about increasing their creativity, concentration and productivity.

Here are some ideas to help you motivate your employees, reduce their stress and improve work organization:

  • Implement telecommuting thus QWL;
  • Set up discussion spaces;
  • Provide nap rooms in the office;
  • Provide ergonomic offices (spaced out, add plants, have own workstation according to needs etc.).
  • Provide team building activities: sports, yoga, game room to strengthen the cohesion between colleagues.
  • Install a pleasant place to take breaks

Create a strong corporate culture

Improving the quality of work life will also benefit your employer brand. Indeed, offering your staff better working conditions will reinforce their loyalty. A happy employee is a loyal employee!

Promoting wellness at work helps staff feel fulfilled at work, increases dedication, and helps the company develop a set of shared corporate values.

Your efforts to improve QWL are investments in the future because a strong corporate culture will ensure the longevity and successful operation of your company.

Reduce absenteeism and work-related accidents

Absenteeism and accidents in the workplace are generally due to excessive stress, overwork, hierarchy problems and harassment. Companies do not always measure the effects of their employees’ unhappiness and suffering, both on their own activities and on those of their employees. Daytime absenteeism and work-related accidents are detrimental to the company’s professional performance and result in significant costs.

Create a comfortable environment (large offices, break room, etc.) and make it appealing to your staff throughout the day with breakfasts, lectures, training, etc. to prevent accidents and reduce absenteeism.

A good quality of work life fosters a sense of belonging and intimacy among members of the organization, including a spirit of cooperation and involvement. In order to identify the circumstances that may lead to this type of situation, it is essential to maintain strong social ties.

Reduce the company’s turnover

Managers and HR directors are aware that hiring a replacement costs a lot of money and leads to a decrease in performance: training, recruitment, etc. According to some research, a positive work environment can reduce employee turnover by at least 50%.

When employees leave your company, costs increase and performance suffers. Turnover is a sign of your company’s health. To improve working conditions and reduce turnover, it is essential that you pay attention to the needs of your employees (breaks, work place, professional relationships, etc.)

Attracting and recruiting talent

The job market is competitive in any industry, so companies must develop and differentiate themselves to stand out from the competition. You can count on QWL to attract and hire the rare gems according to your HR policy. Using social media to share every internal activity and help your satisfied staff to improve communication is a wonderful idea.

In conclusion, QWL allows you to create a stable and resilient ecosystem in the long term to support the changes we are experiencing (technological, social, economic, health crisis…). It is an essential component for candidates and talent. According to a Generali 2022 study, the top 4 factors used by candidates to choose a job are money (64%), health and QWL (47%), location in relation to where they live (31%) and atmosphere (25%). QWL is therefore a response to the difficulties of attracting, retaining, inspiring and retaining talent, particularly in view of the talent shortage in certain sectors.

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