Improving the wellbeing of employees by assessing and enhancing quality of working life
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Portsmouth
Unit of AssessmentBusiness and Management Studies
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services: Business and Management
Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology
Summary of the impact
The Work-Related Quality of Life (WRQoL®) scale and its derivatives have
been used to assess and enhance the quality of working life in 10% of UK
universities, ten NHS Trusts, five Trade Unions, 15 schools, a
professional body (the British Psychological Society) and parts of other
large national organisations (Police, BBC, RNLI). The research and data
provided by the Quality of Working Life (QoWL®) team at the University of
Portsmouth also now forms a significant element of the UK Government's
definition and approach to tackling organisational stress. The WRQoL®
scale is available in 11 languages and 50+ countries, and is directly and
indirectly saving organisations thousands of pounds and helping
contributing to the improved wellbeing of millions of employees.
The quality of working life (QoWL) of an individual is influenced by
their direct experience of work and by the direct and indirect factors
that affect this experience. QoWL is important in maintaining an effective
workforce and is related to job satisfaction, wellbeing, stress,
productivity and engagement of employees (Easton & Van Laar, 2012). Nationally
it has been estimated that 200 million working days, at a cost of £13
billion, are lost each year in the UK due to poor health and wellbeing
(Bevan, 2010). At the organisational level, reductions in sickness
absence due to enhanced wellbeing have been shown to bring large and
quantifiable economic benefits to the organisation. At the individual
level, improved life quality translates into a longer and happier
life. The WRQoL psychometric scale was created and developed by Van Laar
and colleagues at Portsmouth as an aid to understand and improve
the quality of working life of working people in the UK and across the
Since 1998 Van Laar and colleagues have provided staff surveys to a large
number of organisations including NHS trusts, schools and universities.
This public engagement, the survey data collected, and ongoing discussions
with staff, management and unions in these organisations prompted Van Laar
and colleagues to consider `quality of working life' more generally.
Linking real-world survey data to the theoretical literature on the
quality of working life led to the development of the Work-Related Quality
of Life (WRQoL) scale (Van Laar, Edwards & Easton, 2007) using Finance
South East Concept (Project 1) and Higher Education Innovation funds
(Project 2). The WRQoL scale is the psychometrically strongest measure of
QoWL and has a six factor structure: General Well-Being, Home-Work
Interface, Job and Career Satisfaction, Control at Work, Working
Conditions and Stress at Work. This original validation assessment took
place while the UK Government's Health & Safety Executive (HSE) was
developing its Management Standards Stress Scale, and this coincidence saw
the Portsmouth team invited to work with the HSE to validate the HSE scale
and to investigate the links between the quality of working life and
stress in the workplace. The findings were reported by Edwards, Webster,
Van Laar & Easton (2008) which was the first paper to analyse the full
HSE data set and was crucial in the acceptance of this now very widely
A large scale survey with responses from over 2500 staff from four UK
Universities enabled the validity of the WRQoL scale to be further tested,
(Edwards, Van Laar, Easton & Kinman, 2009). This research provided new
benchmarking data and norms for university employees and confirmed the
WRQoL scale as outperforming similar scales. In 2012, the WRQoL user
manual was published, providing full validity and reliability information
for users of the scale (Easton and Van Laar, 2012).
Research since 2009 has focussed on development of the WRQoL 2 scale
which includes a new employee engagement sub-scale and provides norms for
new organisational areas such as the Police (Easton, Van Laar &
Marlow-Vardy, 2013). The Portsmouth team have also been working with (and
advising) researchers from around the world to enable development of
culturally valid translations of the WRQoL scale.
Portsmouth staff involved:
Dr Darren Van Laar 2003-13 (Reader in Applied Psychology),
Mr Simon Easton 2003-13 (Chartered Clinical Psychologist),
Dr Julian Edwards 2007-8 (HEIF Research Fellow).
References to the research
1. Easton, S., Van Laar, D.L. & Marlow-Vardy, R. (2013). Quality of
Working Life and the Police. Management. 3(3), 135-141, DOI: 10.5923/j.mm.20130303.01
2. Easton, S. & Van Laar, D.L. (2012). User Manual of the WRQoL
Scale. University of Portsmouth: Portsmouth. ISBN: 9781861376398.
3. Edwards, J., Van Laar, D.L., Easton, S., & Kinman, G. (2009) The
Work-Related Quality of Life Scale for Higher Education Employees. Quality
in Higher Education. 15(3) 207-219, DOI: 10.1080/13538320903343057.
17 citations since 2009.
4. Edwards, J.A., Webster, S., Van Laar, D.L., & Easton, S. (2008).
Psychometric Analysis of the UK Health & Safety Executive Management
Standards Work-Related Stress Indicator Tool. Work & Stress
22(2) 96-107, DOI: 10.1080/02678370802166599.
ABS List 2*. 42 citations since 2008.
5. Van Laar, D.L., Edwards, J., & Easton, S. (2007). The Work-Related
Quality of Life (WRQoL) Scale for Healthcare Workers. Journal of
Advanced Nursing 60(3) 325-333, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2007.04409.x.
45 citations since 2007.
1. Project 1: 2006. (£49,250). The Healthy Employee Assessment &
Diagnostic Toolkit (The HEAD Toolkit). Finance South East. [Van Laar, D.
and Easton, S.]
2. Project 2: 2005. (£71,011). Assessment, understanding and change of
Quality of Working Life. Higher Education Innovation Fund. [Van Laar, D.
and Easton, S.]
Details of the impact
The reach and significance of this research can be
- The incorporation of Portsmouth research and resulting data in the UK
government's benchmark definition of stress at work.
- The wide range of UK organisations which have used the QoWL tool to
survey and improve conditions for their staff, including 10% of all UK
universities (including Cardiff, Essex, London School of Hygiene and
Tropical Medicine, LSE, QMU, and Sheffield) and some of the largest UK
Trade Unions (including the Police Federation, TUC, Unite);
- The many translations and applied use of the scale across the world
(including India, Iran, Philippines, Turkey), and the extent of media
coverage it has attracted at home and abroad.
This research has not only had a demonstrable health and welfare
impact, but also a strong economic, commercial and
organisational impact. In 2008, building on an award of
£71,000 from the University's Higher Education Investment Fund (HEIF) to
commercialise this research, a university spinout company, QoWL Ltd, was
1. Contributing to the development of UK government stress benchmarks
At the national level, current Health and Safety Law requires
that if work-related stress is suspected in employees then it must be
assessed. This led the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to develop a
Stress Management Standards questionnaire in 2005. The Portsmouth team
played an integral role in helping validate this questionnaire and were
actively consulted in the construction of the HSE Management Standards
(MS) psychometric scale and stress-intervention procedure that has been in
place since 2008 to help employers manage work-related stress. The Manager
of the HSE Stress Area confirms that more than ten per cent of the current
HSE MS benchmark data was contributed by Portsmouth QoWL researchers and
that "the benchmark data- set has formed a key element of the UK
government's definition and approach to tackling organisational stress"
(Corroborating Person — CP1). Significantly, since 2008 an estimated
"...17,000 organisations, including 80% of Local Government Authorities,
and more than 1 million staff have used the management standards scale and
the associated benchmarks to assess the factors that affect the health and
wellbeing of their staff." (CP1). In 2011 Van Laar worked with the
Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and Robertson
Cooper Ltd to link QoWL university employee wellbeing data to NSS
organisational scores (p. 28-9), which led to specific guidelines for
HR professionals on implementing effective wellbeing strategies
across the HE sector (Corroborating Source — CS1).
2. Improving workplace wellbeing: the application of the WRQoL scale
and QoWL surveys
At the organisational level, WRQoL based QoWL staff surveys have
typically been employed by Human Resource (HR) departments to identify
organisational shortcomings so that remedial policies can be introduced in
order to improve organisational satisfaction and to enhance the working
life of employees. In the majority of cases, organisations have paid for
Van Laar and colleagues to set up, analyse and report the WRQoL and
wellbeing of their staff, demonstrating the economic and commercial
value of such surveys. For example, since 2007 the University of
Huddersfield, a large UK University employing over 1,600 staff, has
conducted a WRQoL based QoWL survey every two years, using the data
provided by the surveys to drive change in many ways (CS2). In 2009, QoWL
survey results "allowed us to focus on sickness absence" (CP2), prompting
the introduction of a new sickness absence procedure that led to "a 16%
reduction in sickness absence with average days lost per employee now at
4.4, significantly below the HE average of 6.2" and "days lost since
2007/8 for stress/mental ill health for academic staff have more than
halved from 1453 days to 604 days, a saving estimated to be in the region
of £100,000 p.a." (CP2).
Leeds College of Music, a specialist UK conservatoire college, have used
the WRQoL survey three times across five years (2008-2013) to `drive
change' in the organisation by emphasising the organisation's social
responsibility and management support for employees. The 2008 survey
identified inconsistencies in management training programmes — leading to
the introduction of a formal management and leadership induction course
for all its (40) managers. Other changes introduced as a direct
consequence of survey findings include changing the way requests for
flexible working are dealt with and improved staff communications, causing
"home-work interface approval rates to rise by 12% and overall [staff]
satisfaction levels to rise by 16%" (CP3). The Director of Work-Life
Solutions, a Business Psychology consultancy which has worked with more
than 10 commercial clients using the QoWL survey confirms that the tool
has allowed "clients to gain a competitive advantage over similar
organisations through allowing them to demonstrate lower costs of absence
and staff turnover and to become more attractive to talent through
improved reputation." (CP4).
3. TheWRQoL scale and QoWL surveys: International and Media Reach.
The global reach of the WRQoWL scale developed at Portsmouth is evidenced
by requests from more than 340 researchers from over 50 countries to use
the scale since 2008 (CS3). The WRQoL scale is downloaded on average 100
times a month from the www.qowl.co.uk
web-site and the scale has been officially translated by researchers into
11 languages to date, including Chinese, Farsi, Hungarian, Spanish, Thai
The QoWL/Portsmouth research has also been widely cited by journalists,
broadcasters and social media. It has formed the basis for the lead
article on the BBC Business web-site in 2009, and has helped to shape
public debate about the engagement of older employees in work (CS4).
Sources to corroborate the impact
CS1: Shutler-Jones, K. (2011). Improving performance through
wellbeing & engagement: essential tools for a changing HE
landscape. London: UCEA.
CS2: Wolff, C. (2009). Measuring wellbeing brings rewards at the
University of Huddersfield. Intelligent Research Solutions
Employment Review, No. 916. London: XpertHR.
CS3: QoWL archive of researchers accessing and downloading the WRQoL
CS4: Archive containing copies of all citations relating to
QoWL/Portsmouth by journalists, broadcasters or social media (inc:
BBC business website and older employee engagement articles).
CP1: Manager of Stress Services, UK Health and Safety Executive.
CP2: Director of Human Resources, University of Huddersfield.
CP3: Director of Human Resources, Leeds College of Music. Letter.
CP4: Managing Director, Work-Life Solutions Ltd. Letter. PARTICIPANT/REPORTER
(in the sense he worked with QoWL to help develop their product and
marketing strategy and has implemented the survey in a number of