Quality of Life at Work When designing physical workspaces to optimize work practices

Quality of Work Life (QWL) for workers is a major factor in the success of all organizations. In fact, QWL is a major factor in the sustainability, viability and profitability of any organizations.

In this blog post we look at how QWL impacts on organizational effectiveness before then exploring how the concepts of habitability and Environmental Quality (EQ) can help provide useful tools and mechanisms to help us better design workspaces for high QWL and increased productivity and effectiveness.

Quality of Work Life can be defined as:

that part of overall quality of life that is influenced by work. It is more than just job satisfaction or work happiness, but the widest context in which an employee would evaluate their work environment.

QWL is a multi-dimensional construct of well-being that includes objective and subjective factors such as workers’ productivity as well as workers’ emotional needs. One of the key factors in QWL is the physical workspace.

There is a significant body of work that has demonstrated how workers waste time and energy that they could be devoting to their work because of having to cope with poorly designed workspaces. A low QWL is a concrete manifestation of these issues. This is particularly important as a low QWL often means increased levels of stress at work. This impacts negatively on both individual and organizational performance as higher levels of stress are directly related to increased anxiety, insomnia, depression, and absenteeism as well as lower levels of job performance and decreased levels of job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

The intentional design of workspaces to support workers’ activities and tasks can lead to increases in all levels of workspace comfort and productivity – and therefore lead to increases in QWL for workers. In terms of measuring QWL a key measure is provided in the concept of habitability. Habitability can be defined as:

the degree of fit between individuals or groups and their environment, both natural and man-made, in terms of an ecologically sound and humane, built environment.

In this respect, habitability connects buildings and settings with users and occupants’ various needs within the broader work environment.

Improving habitability through a better fit between workers and their workspaces requires that their physical environment meet three categories of needs. These three categories of needs are:

- health and safety

- functional and task performance

- psychological comfort

Improved habitability means a better quality of work environment. In this respect then, improved habitability can lead to improved QWL. However, while some aspects of habitability can easily be measured, others – such as psychological comfort – require more methodological finesse. A useful way to qualitatively and quantitatively measure psychological comfort is provided through the use of the concept of Environmental Quality (EQ).

Environmental Quality (EQ) is defined as:

the combination of environmental elements that interact with users of the environment to enable that environment to be the best possible one for the activities that go on in it.

We can think of EQ as comprising three discrete but related measures, these being:

- Physical comfort

- Functional comfort

- Psychological comfort

Assessment of these three forms of comfort can usefully used for a variety of purposes including:

- promoting continuous improvement; 

- comparing user assessments from different buildings, floors, areas, and pre- and post-change; and

- responding to long-term employee complaints

EQ can be measured through a range of mechanisms including survey tools and ethnographic observation. Results, once obtained, allow designers and managers to assess the quality of various environmental attributes in terms of these three forms of workspace comfort in terms of how they support, or not, the various tasks being performed by workers. These data can then be used to optimize workspace design and use to both maximize QWL as well as workspace productivity.

The result of these types of assessments therefore provides reliable indicators of EQ. As such, filtered through the concept of habitability the data from these assessments helps facilitate the evaluation of worker’s QWL.

The important piece to note though is that the optimal workspace situation is one that maximizes worker’s QWL as well as most effectively and efficiently allows for the completion of the tasks to which they are assigned. It is the combination of these two factors that creates a high-functioning workspace.

Images courtesy of: Pixabay