Quality of Life - hard reset needed?

Published on : 6/30/20
  • In a post Covid-19 world, should everyone reset their expectations as to what life should offer inside and outside the workplace?

    Sodexo’s mission is to improve the Quality of Life of customers, consumers and employees in each of the areas we work in. But will the data allow us to do this?

    Quality of life logo

    Whilst there are many ways of understanding what quality of life means to people, there are limited means to capture what this looks like in the workplace. This is surprising to say the least, considering that this is where we spend a sizeable chunk of our time. 

    Covid-19 has caused many organisations to reassess their priorities. In these times of basic needs appraisal, should organisations focus their efforts exclusively in the lower echelons of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Figure 1), i.e. the basic and psychological needs? Or should they also aim to see beyond these and luxuriate in the higher levels of behavioural motivation? 

    Hierarchy of needs diagram

    Figure 1 – Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs

    Quality of life in the workplace: if it can be measured, then it can be managed

    In a recent WORKTECH webinar somebody asked the question if it was possible to leave your workplace with an improved Quality of Life? This was greeted with amusement as the audience generally seemed to think it was a ridiculous prospect. This shows why this area needs to be further investigated. If it can be measured - it can be managed.

    Quality of life indices such as…

    •    OECD Better Life Index
    •    Numbeo – Quality of Life Index
    •    World Happiness report
    •    United Nations – Human Development Index

    … focus on socio-economic matters and are reported at country level. Whilst some of these may not be universally recognised measures or scientifically proven means of understanding, they are well-established and useful viewpoints. Despite their general usefulness for understanding Quality of Life and how it can be measured, the data that specifically concerns workplace impact is limited. This is shown in Figure 2 below, where workplace considerations included in these indices are highlighted in bold. 

    Quality of life diagram

    Figure 2 - 'Quality of life' measures from established sources (OECD, Numbeo, World Happiness Report, United Nations)

    In order to understand Quality of Life and make it meaningful to workplace customers and consumers, we need to measure and report at an individual and organisational level.

    Undoubtedly there are qualitative surveys for the workplace such as Leesman’s, which record employee experience and workplace effectiveness. Whilst in the Leesman survey’s case the WELL Building Standard (Figure 3) is applied to mental wellbeing in buildings, its key themes could equally be applied to any work setting. 

    WELL Building standard diagram

    Figure 3 - WELL Building Standard - Key themes

    Further to this are employee engagement surveys, initiatives which are often HR-led. These typically seek to measure how well employees understand the central mission and goals of the organisation. 

    However, the problem remains that there is no single comprehensive blend that provides measurements across workplace factors, the relationship with non-workplace ones and the impact of people’s Quality of Life.


    In 2016 I wrote: “In the past, work was a ‘place’ because of working patterns and technology constraints – somewhere we had to go to. Now work is a 'verb' – working patterns and technology boundaries mean that work is something you do regardless of your location. In the future, we predict work will be an 'asset'. A packageable piece of value that has no dependency on what it is, where it was done, how it was produced or indeed who (or what) produced it.” 

    The measurement of Quality of Life requires further definition and boundaries, and as made clear above, the institutional building cannot be one of them. The type of work that the employee will perform will equally be as varied. Although we cannot rule out high levels of automation, we should still focus on the employee (Sodexo’s customer B2C) and the consumer (B2B2C).

    Considering this, at Sodexo, we focus on what is going on inside the heads and bodies of the people we provide services to. However, drawing our attention to the commercial drivers for this andorganisations’ willingness to pay for this service, is more challenging.

    A recent article from the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School points out that the importance given to wellbeing in the workplace remains low, in spite of the overwhelming commercial and talent attraction arguments in its favour. 

     “(…) investors and developers have yet to see strong performance reasons to invest in wellbeing. [To address this] Haynes (2007:456) calls for “a need for further research to demonstrate the linkage between the real estate, facilities management performance metrics [and] the organisational performance metrics”.” 

    So, the simplicity of measurement and understanding of the causal link to justify the return on investment should not be taken for granted, especially when dealing with organisations with more traditional workplace property stock.

    There’s an App for that

    Technology should be exploited to help us to measure QoL. In the past five years there has been an explosion of smart building technologies. However, these have largely focused on the efficient operation of buildings from an operating cost perspective. Much fewer technologies have focused on measuring the experience of the employee’s interaction with the workplace and the resultant value output.

    The Saïd Business School (SBS) article further states “that measuring any uplift in subjective indicators such as occupant happiness, health and productivity as a result of smart building system adaptation is not so straight forward. It is even harder to relate the root cause of any change in these human variables back to factors within the control of landlord or tenant to attribute any financial gains correctly.”

    Apps that measure the impact of safe and comfortable surroundings – such as optimal Air Quality, noise levels, lighting and temperature – on employees’ productivity irrespective of their location will become important tools for ensuring that an organisation’s employee/employer contract has a sound foundation when it comes to employee appraisal and performance reviews.

    Quality of Life and the Secret Ingredient 

    Very few organisations today can be said to do enough to understand employees’ needs when it comes to Quality of Life in the workplace. As the SBS article suggests, this is primarily linked to a “difficulty in measurement and attribution” for Quality of Life indicators. According to the same article, this “has resulted in underinvestment in social capital within the workplace", despite this factor having been “empirically shown to improve the performance of occupier firms”

    To address this gap, future efforts must look to combine measurements and weightings for the following elements:
    1.    Workplace Effectiveness and Quality
    2.    Physical and Mental Wellbeing Quality
    3.    Socio Economic Quality factors.

    As Covid-19 is expected to shape the future of the workplace for the years to come, organisations must ensure that Quality of Life of their employees is their top priority.

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    About the author
    Picture of Mike Stephens
    Mike Stephens,Business Analysis Director – Property Services Integrator, Sodexo. 

    Mike has been a leader in managing ICT in the Built Environment for over 30 years. More recently he specialises in Property Technology (PropTech) and Property Insight & Intelligence. 

    Recent articles by Mike Stephens – Are we thinking outside the building? May 2020
    Connect with Mike: +44 (0)7803 259672,  Email: or  LinkedIn