QWL a concept for companies that care
As the world and its economies change, careers and jobs change too. Workplace relations are not what they used to be: today companies care more about (the quality of working life of) their employees than ever before
According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, people are motivated to achieve in order to satisfy certain needs. At the highest level of the American psychologist’s pyramid is self-actualisation, which involves realising one’s personal potential, achieving self-fulfilment and seeking personal growth and peak experiences. The motivation for reaching this level is different for everyone, but many people choose to achieve self-actualisation through their work.
With this in mind, it is important to consider how many hours a day people spend working and how significant the quality of their working life (QWL) is to them. “The concept of work harbours enormous ambivalence and paradox and it has evolved from something associated with punishment. It now has the ability to create, define and guarantee human existence under the right conditions,” says Raphael Henrique C. Di Lascio, author of the chapter Quality of working life, in the book Improving Employee Health and Well-Being.
The concept of QWL is not new, according to Yolandi van der Berg and Professor Nico Martins, from the department of Industrial Psychology at the University of South Africa. The idea dates as far back as the 1950s. “Its foundation as a concept and term was most probably laid at the first international conference on QWL in 1972, where significant focus was placed on developing a credible and functional measure of QWL to make working environments more humane for workers,” explain Van der Berg and Martins.
Today, the idea of QWL is a little different. The focus is now on ways in which organisations can ensure the holistic well-being of their employees, instead of focusing only on work aspects. With the growing popularity of the QWL movement, organisations around the world have started to strike a balance between facilitating the overall development and happiness of their employees and, while doing so, maintaining the economic health of the company.
The strategies organisations choose to improve their employees’ QWL differ from one organisation to the next, but the underlying elements they address are common, according to the MBASkool.com. There are around seven main factors that, if addressed properly, will greatly help employers improve QWL.
First on the list is job security. “For the most part, people look for work so that they are able to meet their basic needs,” says Di Lascio. “Not knowing whether they will be able to meet these needs, because they fear losing their job, will not have a good effect on employees and the quality of work they produce.”
Job enrichment is another idea from the 1950s that plays a role in QWL. It’s an attempt to motivate employees by giving them the opportunity to use a range of their abilities, according to Frederick Hertzberg, the American psychologist who developed the idea. The theory is that giving employees increased responsibility and variety in their jobs is better for their well-being than simply increasing the number of tasks without changing the challenge.
A survey done in 2012, by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and CareerJournal.com, revealed that providing employees with a clear set of career growth plans is important in retaining them, which is why it is also on the list. “Having a career development plan in place, shows employees that you value them for the work they are able to do now, as well as what they might be able to offer your organisation long-term,” says human resources writer, Erin Palmer.
Open communication is next on the list. It fosters employee engagement and boosts levels of morale and performance. David Lee, founder of HumanNature@Work,
Involving employees in the decision-making processes is what employee participation is all about; it’s part of the process of empowerment in the workplace. Trusting employees to make decisions for themselves and the company is a key motivating tool.
Rewards and recognition are also a part of QWL and they don’t always equal money. Some of the perks, that companies offer these days, range from subsidised Montessori childcare to half-days on Fridays and free beer. Google, the multinational corporation that specialises in internet-related services and products, is well-known for its methods of rewards and recognition (that include access to a bocce court, bowling alley and free gourmet food) and was listed as the best company to work for by Fortune Magazine last year, for the fourth year in a row.
In an interview with the magazine, Larry Page, Google’s CEO, says: “When you treat people [well] … you get better productivity. Rather than really caring what hours you worked, you care about output. We should continue to innovate in our relationship with our employees and figure out the best things we can do for them … Our people have also been a lot happier and more productive, which is much more important.”
The final point in addressing QWL is flexible working hours. In terms of flexibility, some organisations are more than willing to oblige. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the multinational professional services firm, is one of them. It states: “People are most successful when they have the everyday flexibility they need to meet the demands of their professional life and accomplish the things they identify as priorities outside of their career.”
The bottom line is that money is not the only motivating factor for employees anymore. Factors that determine how efficient a company is are directly related to the employees and their methods of thinking and acting, and whether or not they perceive the company as really caring about their development and overall well-being.
“A company is not able to offer quality products or services if its employees do not have a good quality of life. It is fundamental, therefore, that the company concerns itself with the performance of its employees and with attitudes related to quality of their work,” says Di Lascio.