M. Joseph Sirgy, Virginia Tech Real Estate Professor of Marketing
M. Joseph Sirgy, Virginia Tech Real Estate Professor of Marketing

A person is more than just the product of their work. For an employee to have a positive quality of work life, an organization must cater to the complete well-being of an employee, not just aspects related to work. For employers, a happy employee is a productive employee, as well as a dedicated and loyal employee.

So how does one measure the quality of work life?

In 2001, Virginia Tech Real Estate Professor of Marketing Joseph Sirgy released his groundbreaking Quality of Work Life Scale (QWLS), which, using a specially developed mathematical formula, puts a numeric value to how well an employee’s needs are being met by his or her employer. This metric is also utilized to determine the employee’s satisfaction in other facets of his or her life. By doing so, the QWLS shows a strong relationship between satisfaction of a worker’s needs and high work engagement, as well as overall satisfaction in non-work life areas.

“The more satisfied worker is one whose needs are being met,” said Sirgy.

His research identified seven major employee needs, each with several dimensions – or subsets – of their own, that should be met by an employing organization: health and safety; economic and family; social; esteem; actualization; knowledge; creativity and aesthetics. The need satisfaction measure consists of a total of 16 dimensions related to these seven sets of needs.

“Management should look beyond job satisfaction by focusing on life satisfaction,” Sirgy explained. “An organization needs to help an employee be satisfied with their life as well. Ancillary issues like work-life balance, child care, those things that go beyond just work and attend to other life domains.”

He continued, “Employees that are employed with an organization that satisfies employee’s developmental needs [these seven sets of needs – basic and growth needs] report high satisfaction in life, or personal happiness.”

There is evidence that personal happiness has a significant impact on job effort, job performance, and job turnover, as well as health and well-being. The consequences of low health and well-being are increased absenteeism, reduced productivity and efficiency, as well as an increase in health insurance and medical expenses. Thus, organizations have a incentive in ensuring their employees needs are being attended to.

His most recent research – published earlier this year – showed that the QWLS is a valid and reliable metric no matter the cultural background of the person studied. By extension, the study also showed that there is little in the way of cultural difference in the relationship between job satisfaction and life satisfaction; job satisfaction spills over to life satisfaction for employees across a wide range of cultures and countries.

“The main emphasis of our original research was to develop a metric that is solid and that doesn’t give you any surprises,” said Sirgy. “I believe we did that.”

By comparing QWLS results from a sample of workers from two different countries – Portugal and Brazil – Sirgy was able to show that there was little difference, or variability, in the results no matter the country of origin of the worker studied.

“The countries we used demonstrated that the results were practically culturally invariant,” he explained. “The goal of the study showed that our metric can be applied across the board with very little cultural variability.”

Quality of life is obviously more than just a research subject to Sirgy – it is what originally led him to call Blacksburg his home in 1979. “My wife and I spent some time in Los Angeles. It was just too congested and too polluted,” he said. “Blacksburg is the perfect place. There was little reason to go back to Los Angeles, so we stayed put.”

As a recipient of a doctorate in management psychology from the University of Massachusetts, it was Sirgy’s background in psychology that led him to begin researching quality of life some 40 years ago. “My interests focus on human well-being,” he explained. “I came in with that focus to try and figure out what it takes to enhance employee and customer well-being. It evolved into focusing on human well-being in an organizational context.”

The overall goal of his research, Sirgy explained, is to help change how organizations approach relationships with their employees.

“I want to move beyond the transactional relationship of employment and move into a transformational relationship where the job can transform lives,” he said.

Written by Jeremy Norman