Forget work-life balance, focus on quality of life

Michel Landel, CEO of services firm, Sodexo, is on a mission to encourage employers to stop thinking about employee ‘work-life balance’ and start considering ‘quality of life’ instead.
Forget work-life balance, focus on quality of life

This article is part of the Forum Network series on the New Societal Contract

This piece builds on my contribution to OECD Forum 2017, Bridging Divides, and conversations on ways to ensure policies effectively address increasing levels of inequality in our societies and improve people’s social, economic and environmental well-being. 

Over 50 years ago, Sodexo’s founder, Pierre Bellon, articulated the vision that quality of life is a key driver of progress for both individuals and organisations. We know that patients recover faster when the quality of their care is improved. We also know that children who are encouraged to eat well and engage in physical activity do better in school. What we must now recognise is that employees are more productive in a positive and safe environment. It is this “human-centric” approach that has defined Sodexo over the decades and continues to drive the evolution of our practices as well as the services we offer. As we help improve quality of life for women and men, we help improve the performance of the organisations we serve. 

These organisations – our clients – have changed. So has the world of work. 24/7 technology means that people expect information anytime, anywhere, and that impacts the way we live and work. The traditional nine-to-five rhythm is becoming a thing of the past and, with it, companies need to adapt to the requirements and lifestyles of their employees.

Work-life balance and flexible working have become popular terms for business leaders and employees alike when discussing employee satisfaction. That is just part of the story. Many businesses are starting to recognise that, in order to attract and retain talent, they must do more for the women and men of their organisation.

This is where the concept of quality of life can become more of a priority for businesses. We should consider how economic, environmental and societal changes are impacting employees’ quality of life and what we can do to improve it.

People want to work for engaged and responsible companies that respect work-life balance and their life as a whole. Studies into workplace trends have found that issues such as the working environment, wellness benefits and sustainability credentials are increasingly important to today’s workforce and can influence people’s decisions to stay with an employer – just as much as the salary. 

The next frontier of performance

I believe that quality of life is the next frontier of performance in the workplace to drive people’s engagement. Quite simply, if you invest in quality of life programmes, you will see a positive impact on performance, whether it be consumer satisfaction or employee efficiency, improved sales performance or enhanced reputation with external stakeholders.

So, how can you ensure that you are a frontrunner in this constantly evolving area? Quality of life encompasses all the ingredients that demonstrate a genuine interest and investment in people, looking at what can be done to improve their daily life. This could include flexible working hours for parents doing the school run, healthy food or free gym memberships to encourage healthier lifestyles, or tailored training to help someone develop their personal or professional skills.

But, with an increase in the age of retirement in most developed economies, it could also involve helping older workers maintain or switch careers or re-evaluating the way you communicate with your employees.

Defining your purpose

Successful brands define their social or environmental purpose – beyond products or services – and share it with their employees. This gives workers a sense of purpose in what they do.

At our second Quality of Life conference in London, we spent two days with leaders from a broad range of sectors – corporate, health, defence and education along with think tanks, public authorities and NGOs – collaborating and challenging current models. By bringing together such a varied audience, we will now move forward in driving measurable change across multiple sectors.

Quality of life conference

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that you cannot build a successful, sustainable company without a genuine interest in improving the lives of your employees. Those that embrace quality of life today will no doubt lead the charge in their industries tomorrow.  

• As a citizen, do you feel that governments are becoming more willing to consider quality of life in their policy making? More in some areas than in others?

• The concept of “co-creation” – public and private sectors joining forces for a common goal – is gaining prominence. Do you think these new forms of public-private partnership make sense to improve people’s quality of life?

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Go to the profile of Baiju Khanchandani
almost 6 years ago

A commendable approach that will promote corporate wellness programmes. These are still rare. And should initially focus on musculoskeletal conditions and prevention. New and innovative approaches include chiropractic care and other low tech knowledge based approaches which embrace a healthy brain paradigm. A good place to start is to check the goods on sale in the company vending machines and cafeteria!

Go to the profile of Kieran Jones
almost 6 years ago

Hi Baiju,

Can you tell us more about the low-tech, knowledge-based approaches you mention? And are there any companies or institutions that you know of that use them?

Thanks for your comment! 


Go to the profile of Ales Kranjc Kuslan
over 5 years ago

The title and  reasoning in the article has a big logical mistake - work-life balance is essential part of quality of life - so how to forget it? You cannot focus on quality of life if not focus on W-L balance at the same time.