Reinvigorating Quality of Working Life Research | Grote + Guest | 2017 | Human Relations

Since the 1981 publication on #QualityOfWorkingLife by #EricTrist, perhaps it’s time for a revisiting.  #GudelaGrote (ETH Zurich) and #DavidGuest (King’s College) wrote:

We will make and substantiate five claims in this essay:

  • (1) the initial QWL movement of the 1960 and 1970s offers an early model for evidence-based policy-making and managerial practice resulting from interdisciplinary social science research that provides useful lessons for contemporary practice;
  • (2) contemporary developments in work and in society more broadly justify a renewed focus on QWL;
  • (3) recent research relevant to QWL has been conducted with increasingly narrow disciplinary foci and overly optimistic assumptions regarding the compatibility of individual and organizational interests, which has limited its policy impact. Researchers need to address the challenge of competing perspectives in this regard;
  • (4) a revised list of QWL criteria and an associated analytic framework, that take into consideration both relevant developments in society and advances in research can serve as a basis for a renewed QWL research agenda;
  • (5) QWL researchers need to (re)learn how to create policy impact by working to an interdisciplinary, stakeholder-focused and intervention-oriented research agenda.

This kind of QWL research agenda should benefit evidence-based policy-making and interventions in organizations, but also academic research itself by rebalancing its rigour and relevance.

We will conclude with some remarks on where we hope a discussion provoked by this essay might lead us as a scientific community concerned with improving QWL [Grote and Guest (2017), pp. 150-151, editorial paragraphing added).

Although the researchers see a return to the scientific approach back to interdisciplinary, the political and economic environment in 2017 is seen as unfavourable towards QWL.

Table 1. Changing frames for quality of working life (QWL) research.
Original QWL movement QWL research from the 90s to today Proposed future QWL research
Orientation towards practice Normative; evidence-based intervention Creating an evidence base for practice Normative; creating an evidence base for practice and
evidence-based interventions
Research focus Relevance Rigour Relevance and rigour
Scientific approach Interdisciplinary Disciplinary Interdisciplinary
Level of analysis Meso to macro Micro to meso Multi-level
Promoted employment relations Collective agreements Individual agreements Combining collective and individual focus
Political and economic
Favourable towards QWL Unfavourable towards QWL Unfavourable towards QWL
Social impetus Emphasis on collective emancipation as a route to societal prosperity Individual proactivity for personal emancipation Emphasis on individual and collective paths to emancipation

The employment relations are no longer on just collective agreements, but on combining the individual and the collective.

After revising a list of quality of working life criteria (adapted from Walton (1973) and Walton (1974)), the researchers propose a framework.

In Figure 1, we outline an integrative framework that incorporates all criteria in the classification.

Figure 1. An integrated framework for future quality of working life research.

Figure 1. An integrated framework for future quality of working life research.

At its heart (level 1) is the individual worker and their job, reflected in Individual proactivity and the Development of human capacities, implying a focus on job content, decision-latitude and employee

In the first band around this core (level 2), reflecting the organizational context of work, we locate organizational HRM policy-related criteria including Adequate and fair compensation, Safe and healthy working environment, and Social integration.

The outer band (level 3) covers issues related to the world outside work including Consideration of the total life space, Social relevance and Flexible working, although the latter potentially cuts across all three levels.

The boundaries between the different levels of analysis are likely to vary in strength and there is inevitably some overlap. Specifically, Growth and security is placed at the boundary of level 1 and 2 and Constitutionalism, that is the protection and promotion of employees’ rights and mechanisms for representation, sits between levels 2 and 3.

Outside the sphere of QWL we locate national and international institutional and legislative arrangements and the wider economic and financial systems that facilitate, prescribe and also inhibit QWL activities [Grote and Guest (2017), pp. 156-157, editorial paragraphing added).

The researchers then propose four research approaches that will have impact.


Grote, Gudela, and David Guest. 2017. “The Case for Reinvigorating Quality of Working Life Research.” Human Relations 70 (2): 149–67.  Alternate search on Google Scholar.

Trist, Eric L. 1981. The Evolution of Socio-Technical Systems: A Conceptual Framework and Action Research Program. Occasional Paper 2. Toronto, Canada: Ontario Quality of Working Life Centre.  Alternate searches on Google Scholar and on Worldcat.

#quality, #quality-of-working-life, #trist