How to improve your employees' quality of working life

Quality of working life (QWL) has become a top priority. First, because employees expect from their company to create working conditions that enable them to carry out their tasks properly. Secondly, because figures show QWL can boost competitiveness if carried out wisely.

Quality of working life affects various aspects: layout of work areas, attachment to the company, benevolent management, work/life balance… But what is it exactly? How to define, measure and improve it in your company?

Quality of working life: what are we talking about?

The official definition of QWL

According to ANACT (French national agency for the improvement of working conditions), quality of working life, known as QWL, is a "procedure aiming to combine performance with employee well-being." If QWL is defined as a procedure, it must be carried out by the top management.

Various indicators enable you to assess the levels of QWL for the employees within your company. A good work climate and team spirit are proof of a successful QWL. Others, such as a feeling of belonging or recognition, are more complex to evaluate, and require an engagement survey solution.

The quality of working life pyramid

Quality of working life isn't just one single element, as shown by our employee experience pyramid.

Primary needs

At the bottom of the pyramid, we can find primary needs. They gather the general atmosphere or working spaces and conditions which are must-have conditions for a good QWL procedure. However, watch out not to fall into the cliché "Oh, it's great to work here because there's a foosball and a roof terrace with palm trees". Limiting QWL to the decoration of offices to improve well-being at work is a common pitfall. QWL is a complex subject, especially if you want to ensure that your employees thrive and are engaged in the long-term.

Social needs

The second level of the employee experience pyramid shows employees' social needs. Team spirit can be boosted through team-building activities, creating a bond amongst colleagues. Relations with the manager can be improved thanks to regular communication and transparency. Finally, giving and receiving feedback is also essential to step back and reflect on your work, your missions, what's going well and what has to be improved.

Personal development

Next, there are the needs for personal development within the company. When employees are invested in their missions, they like to be recognized for the work they do. This is why even a simple "thank you" from management or peers is a great leverage for engagement. Employee development can also be carried out through training programs or seminars. It will enable employees to work continuously on new skills they can after use within the company.

Aspirational needs

At the top of the pyramid, there are the aspirational needs. They are more difficult to satisfy. This can be found through pride in belonging, creativity and innovation, or even alignment with missions and company values. Employees can feel at home and happy in their company if they find meaning in their work. This is especially true for Millennials.

Measuring QWL

Good quality of working life relies on several pillars and many HR actions need to be deployed to improve it. Before validating the implementation of a QWL action plan, it is necessary to identify first the needs for improvement.

Start by asking the main people involved (the employees) what they need. It's essential to underpin all the issues teams can experience to determine the first steps to carry out. Several survey tools are available on the market to help you out in this task.

Quality of working life indicators

We can classify QWL indicators into six main groups. There are:

  • demographic indicators (based on age, gender, time with the company, etc.);
  • absences (duration of absences, absence rate, reasons for absences);
  • health (health issues, incapacity, etc.);
  • safety (accidents in the workplace, assaults, etc.);
  • working conditions (inconveniences, autonomy, etc.);
  • indicators associated with career journeys (access to training, mobility, promotions, turnover, etc.).

Of these main groups, three major QWL indicators have an impact on company performance:

  • turnover: literally, the employees turnover rate within the company. An employee who is unhappy in the workplace will seek a job elsewhere. This indicator will help you to identify whether employees are attached to your company or not.
  • the absence rate can also reflect the QWL status of the company. It is the number of employees absent in regard to the number of employees present over a specific period. This concerns 38% of employees in companies with over 1000 employees.
  • the employee net promoter score (ENPS) defines the employee's attachment to the company. It's related to the employer's brand. An employee who is happy at work tends to talk about it. A high ENPS is often a sign of a successful QWL procedure.

Tools for measuring quality of working life

Once you've defined the quality of working life indicators, you need to be able to measure it to assess - concretely - the QWL status of the company. Today, there is a wide range of tools and methods for well-being diagnostics on the market.

QWL can be measured quantitatively (X% of employees are satisfied with…) but also individually. Each employee has their personal opinion on the subject and how they experience the working atmosphere. For example, the anxiety level can vary from one person to another and from one situation to another. Resistance to stress also differs between an account manager and an accountant around the closing period.

Asking an employee about their feelings is certainly the best way to gather responses, but it is rare to obtain genuine responses. It becomes more complex when the company has thousands of employees.

Focus: the QWL survey

Employee experience surveys, such as the ones Lucca designs, enable you to probe employees regularly and anonymously. They help HR and managers to know how employees feel and what their needs may be. Questions can be adapted each week, in line with issues and challenges that are currently faced by the company.

Try out a QWL questionnaire for free

Improving QWL

Well-being at work surveys and indicators will allow you to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a QWL strategy, but the biggest challenge remains: establishing an action plan. There is no magic formula, but the steps below may inspire you.

Getting everyone involved in the quality of working life actions

Almost 70% of QWL procedures end in failure, as employees, managers and board members aren't working together or don't have faith in the QWL projects. The action plan has to be validated and supported by the operational teams as well as the top management.

Each employee must feel involved and find a role in the QWL action plan. Only a state of mind conducive to the development of new QWL initiatives will have a greater impact on the well-being of employees at work.It is also necessary to think about quality of work life actions over the long term. A one-off approach to improving the quality of work life will only work for a limited time and the associated benefits may quickly disappear.

Finally, even if it seems obvious, it is important to think of your QWL process as a specific goal which is measurable, achievable, and feasible in a limited time frame.

5 levers for improving employee experience

Improving employee experience isn’t necessarily expensive. Here are 5 levers that can help you in your QWL process.

Developing work recognition

Work recognition is definitely one of the most structural elements of a QWL procedure. Saying "thank you" to your employees may seem trivial, but when we get thanks for the work we have done, we feel recognized, valued and, overall, more motivated and involved. If the thanks come from your superiors, it's even more gratifying.

Jean-Philippe Bouchard, an expert in leadership and conflict management, explained in an article published in 2020 in Welcome to the Jungle that we are "naturally conditioned to remember what is wrong". It doesn't cost a penny to thank someone, and it "helps bring attention to the positive things around you".

Allowing greater flexibility

Our way of leading organizations is running out of steam. COVID-19 and the sudden switch to remote work highlighted the managerial and organizational dysfunctions that have already been present for many years.

New ways of working, more "flexible" (remote work, flexi-work, result-based management instead of presence-based management, etc.) have emerged and proved to be extremely popular with Generation Z workers. Passing on this opportunity means denying a key lever for engagement and performance.

Giving the right to make mistakes

Another fundamental point of a successful QWL procedure is the failure management. In our private lives, we increasingly hear that it's okay to make mistakes from time to time - nobody is perfect. This isn't the case in the professional world - far from it. People are scared of failure, and this fear persists. Yet, failure is a natural part of learning.

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm"

As Churchill said

Improving company feedback

Feedback is an essential element of any QWL procedure. It needs to be regular in order to be both practical and useful. You don't know how people are really doing if you only ask them once a year.

Developing team spirit

Team spirit is one of the values most commonly highlighted by companies, but not all teams necessarily have it. Working as a team and having team spirit are two very different concepts. The first is more a question of organization whilst the second requires soft skills. Team spirit is an essential component of good working life quality and employee engagement. This can be translated through moments of cohesion or team lunches. If employees get on well, they'll be happier in their working environment.

Taking action to improve QWL

Once you've identified the various action leverages for improving your quality of working life, it's time to get to work.

Here are three tips for improving your QWL:

  • An d’enquêtes d’engagement collaborateurs helps you gather the information necessary for putting together an action plan. It allows you to validate the pertinence of the actions you want to undertake. Don't hesitate to get help from QWL experts, to guide you on the best quality of work life actions to implement.
  • Don't underestimate projects that don't cost a lot (or that even cost nothing). Contrary to popular belief, projects that don't cost anything are sometimes those which make the biggest difference.
  • Finally, think about your QWL action plans on a long-term basis. It would be a shame to see your quality of work life initiatives fade after a few months, for not having taken the time to ask your employees what they think. This will enable you to update your QWL action plans, so that they stay aligned with employee expectations, which evolve over time.

The impacts of QWL on performance

QWL and performance

Thriving employees are 86% more creative and 65% more invested in their missions. Thanks to a smart QWL policy, a company is 43% more productive.

The logic is almost mathematical: a better employee experience leads to better quality work, increases customer satisfaction, promotes loyalty and word of mouth, and eventually generates more revenue.

This same logic applies internally. HR is often seen as a cost center... A committed QWL approach also means giving yourself the means to retain and therefore capitalize on the expertise of your employees, reduce absenteeism or psychosocial risk factors...

Psychosocial risk factors linked to poor QWL

A QWL process doesn't only aim to improve employees' experience. It also aims to put an end to the vicious circle of corporate unhappiness, which most of the time results in an increase in absenteeism or turnover.

The financial impact for the company is very real. The cost of unhappiness in the workplace is estimated at €13,440 per year per employee in France. It is more advantageous to implement a QWL approach to prevent these psychosocial risk factors.

The implementation of a QWL approach makes it possible to curb the phenomenon of unhappiness at work, but note that its cost will be higher than if you had implemented it from the start.

The best HR actions to improve employee experience

Employees' quality of working life is a concern today for companies of all sizes and in all sectors. More and more of them are mobilizing and setting up initiatives to improve the engagement of their teams.

In order to contribute to the dissemination of QWL best practices and to recognize those who launched them, Lucca organizes the Employee Experience Awards every year. Each autumn, they reward the best HR innovations in terms of well-being and quality of working life. A way to inspire those who wish to act but do not know where to start.