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Quality of Work Life: an evolving definition

Considering Employee Expectations: A Critical Element to improve your position in the talent market with an integrated approach to quality of work life (QWL).


How to stand out in the talent market?

In these times marked by the "Great Resignation" and the “Talent Revolution”, attraction and retention are no longer enough. Personal health, the quality of work life, and a motivating work environment are at the top of employees' minds. Organizations must strive to have an explicit and robust employee value proposition (EVP), a key component of which is often the Quality of Work Life (QWL). 

Do you already have a QWL strategy? Have you reviewed it in the last year? The pandemic has shuffled the deck, changed work patterns, lifestyle habits and, most importantly, employees' expectations towards their employer. 

In order to remain competitive in the talent market, each organization must reflect on how it defines QWL. To do so, it is necessary to look at the evolution of their employees’ expectations, to anticipate the challenges that will arise in trying to meet them and to identify the key success factors of an integrated QWL approach.


How have expectations changed?

QWL: spheres of activity

Sia Partners has developed a point of view on QWL that is in synergy with the criteria of the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ), a public institution that governs the granting of the Healthy Enterprise certification. According to our model, four spheres of activity make up the QWL: work-life harmony, work environment, management practices, and lifestyle habits.

Work-life Harmony

Remote working offers employees more flexibility and autonomy, which fosters work-life harmony. That is right, we prefer to say “harmony” as opposed to “balance” as the line is drawn differently for all of us, and it can also vary in time and circumstances. Many arrangements had to be made during the lockdown period, for example to allow for a reorganization of parents' work schedules, as schools and daycare centres were temporarily closed. The notion of a work day has become more fluid. This newly acquired flexibility has made a great number of employees not want to lose it. The current scarcity of talent is fuelling this expectation: employees are expressing their desire and, even, have come to demand it more than ever before.

You’re not sure about all the possible avenues and modalities regarding work-life harmony? Sia Partners has a catalogue of ideas, let's discuss them!

Work Environment

As employees are no longer forced to work from the office every day, the work environment has become more than a physical space with a computer: it is now more focused on being a social place to meet, share, bond, innovate and grow.

The current design of your office may no longer be adapted to the needs of your teams, or even to the new hybrid work environment (for example, the layout of conference rooms equipped with video-conferencing). This is on top of new and emerging constraints related to the increased requirements from health regulations, ones that cannot be ignored.

Are you curious about the innovations and possibilities in this area? Our Design Thinking team has all the solutions and ideas to create an experience and environment that fits your desired culture and EVP.

Management Practices

As the "Talent Revolution" has clearly demonstrated, the on-and-off lockdown of the past two years has led to career-related reassessments, resulting in many employees reorienting themselves or changing jobs. In today's market, where the demand for candidates is significantly higher than the supply, employees expect to be offered opportunities for career advancement, professional development, a greater focus on their appetencies (areas of strengths/passions) or they will look for it elsewhere. 

Employees also want fewer barriers, less hierarchy, more transparency, to be heard and to have honest communications with their manager. They want to feel considered and included in the decisions that will impact their daily lives and they hope to see their managers demonstrate authentic leadership. 

Being a manager is not always easy, especially with the constant changes we went through in the last two years. A common and fast-growing practice is to offer coaching in order to help them in this role. Contact us to learn more about how a customised program can meet your needs.

Lifestyle habits

Many lifestyle habits are expressed at work and, conversely, work can influence them. For many, the pandemic has been an opportunity to take a step back from work and realign their priorities, putting their health, both physical and psychological, at the forefront of work. Employees now expect their employer to contribute positively to this, or at least to provide the space or opportunities for them to do so.

Design thinking, data science and behavioral economics are approaches within organizations’ reach to influence lifestyle habits. Your employees often have the answers themselves and many solutions may be hidden in your data - you just need to dig for them and bring them to light.  

In short, QWL should not be one size fits all, services and support should be communicated on a regular basis - to remind employees about their availability. You should also consider how to support managers as “first-aiders”, as they are often the first ones to notice that an employee may require greater support. 

In our next article, Quality of Work Life: An Evolving Definition - Part 2, you will discover our point of view regarding the challenges that you may encounter in trying to meet these new expectations, as well as the conditions for success surrounding such an approach. Stay tuned!

Are you ready to update your quality of work life strategy to meet the expectations of your current and future talent? To that end, you will need to anticipate and respond to the challenges that will arise, and to identify and promote the key success factors of an integrated QWL approach.


What challenges are associated with talents’ expectations?

As organizations attempt to meet employee expectations, several challenges emerge.

Comment gérer le paradoxe que pose la QVT entre l’individuel et le collectif?

The definition of quality of work life given by employees is based on an individual perception and a unique experience, whereas organizations try to develop collective QWL practices.

How can we recognize, enrich and satisfy each talent while giving them the feeling of belonging? A QWL approach must juggle with these different levels, with the creation of a space to be oneself and a community. 

Part of the answer lies in implementing a participative approach, defining a flexible QWL policy and adopting new management practices.

How to remain equitable while adopting a personalised approach?

Requests for accommodations come thick and fast. When faced with them, adopt a new approach: think about why you would want to accept, not just why you would not. Ask yourself "Why not?", “What is stopping me from saying yes?”. This will help reframe your mindset to managing opportunities rather than enforcing constraints.  Pay attention not to hinder the majority because of the fear of a possible overreach of a minority. Consistency should be your primary concern in this regard.

How to anticipate mental health problems when remote working makes their prevention more difficult?

The warning signs used to be seen in informal exchanges, work relationships, or through certain work habits; it goes without saying that the opportunities to detect them are rarer since work patterns have changed. 

There are many opportunities to address this challenge: 

  • Trainings on early identification of warning signs;
  • Coaching to empower managers to address this issue with their employees;
  • Tools available to employees, regarding different dimensions of health and wellness (stress management micro-practices, stretching, breathing, recipes, meditation), etc.

How do we adapt on an ongoing basis?

The pandemic context,  the on-going waltz of return to work plans, and the newly expressed expectations are bringing this question to the forefront. The right decisions made today may not be the best ones in tomorrow's reality. Agile change management, with its principles of co-construction, collaboration, experimentation and iteration, with an emphasis on individuals and their interactions, is an organizational ability to stay in sync with its workforce and to unleash value as part of the deployment of an integrated quality of work life approach.

What investments are required to maintain and revive a quality of work life?

We can think of benefits, personal care days, as well as the additional offerings and resources required to implement an organizational focus on QWL. 

Investments should be prioritized according to the issues that have the potential to generate the most positive impact. In addition, it is important to optimize the use of available resources, for example by promoting employee assistance programs (EAPs) or insurance coverage.  Finally, remember that not all solutions are costly: for example, it is possible to influence lifestyle habits by organising walking or staircase climbing challenges. QWL solutions can also include improving work relationships through a recognition and appreciation program and team building activities.


What are the key factors of an integrated QWL approach?

The implementation of an integrated quality of work life strategy is based on three key success factors.

QWL is a multifaceted and complex concept, with interdependent dimensions.  It must be approached in a holistic manner in order to identify structural issues, i.e. those that have the greatest impact on the well-being factors you are trying to improve (work relations, role in the organization, career path, organizational culture, etc.). 

The "psychosocial risk" approach should be avoided, as it is based on a risk management posture and reactivity to internal crises. This approach is often used in the wake of an incident; it attempts to eradicate the symptom rather than the cause. In other words, it is good to have a plan to respond to a crisis but even better to proactively set measures to prevent the risks from happening in the first place.

Another key success factor is having an integrated vision of health and well-being at work and adopting a pragmatic, anticipatory and collective approach. Prevention is at the heart of it. It is fueled by proactive management methods, innovative initiatives and dynamic and continuous analysis.

QWL success factor: evolution and maturity of the approach

The QWL approach must be supported by all stakeholders: senior management, the Human Resources Department (HRD), managers, teams, affinity groups and employees. The role of first-level managers is particularly important for its implementation. Although managers should rely on HRD experts, they must, above all, develop key management skills, such as planning, communication of objectives, recognition and appreciation, active supervision, coaching and employee engagement. These competencies contribute directly to QWL, but conversely, shortcomings in this area are detrimental to well-being at work. 

Managers will have to be supported in order to adopt and put into practice:

QWL success factor: managers’ roles

Managers can only succeed with the commitment of their team. Setting up a QWL committee or building a network of champions will help sustain the approach :

QWL success factor: QWL commitee

Finally, don't overlook the importance of a QWL policy and governance structure to provide a solid framework for the evolution of your QWL practices. 

In conclusion, standing out in today's talent market is far from easy. Talents’ expectations have changed, creating challenges that must be addressed through a holistic and preventative approach, one that involves all the necessary stakeholders, from top management to teams and individuals and their family, to ensure sustainability and effectiveness.

Sia Partners can assist you in this process, regardless of your organization's level of maturity in terms of quality of life at work; the most difficult is to get started after all! 


Contact us!

Would you like to go further in your reflection or simply be accompanied in this change? Why stop here? Let's continue the conversation.

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