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Capturing the psychological well-being of Chinese workers and understanding its relationship with factory performance.

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Bellingan, Minette 


Capturing the psychological well-being of Chinese workers and understanding its relationship with factory performance

Media reports of workers losing their lives in factory disasters indicate the failure of audit-based regimes to protect even physical well-being in global supply chains, while distress has been seen to lead to workers’ suicides, yet there is neither clear guidance nor even consensus on how factories should be monitored to facilitate the urgently needed change. Workers themselves are excluded from the social sustainability debate. The lack of knowledge about what impacts Chinese factory workers’ well-being led to a first research question: What are the factors that influence well-being for Chinese factory workers? To persuade stakeholders of the value of making changes, evidence of how that may affect factory performance was also sought. A link would provide an extra incentive for businesses to prioritise these workers’ well-being. This led to the formulation of a second research question: How does workers’ well-being influence factory performance? Going to the heart of the matter by asking the workers, fieldwork set out to discover what life is really like for workers in these factories. A novel research method using workers’ daily digital diaries was developed. A brief pilot in 2017 was followed by a 12-month study across four factories in 2019. Potential well-being interventions were also designed and tested in an operating factory environment to produce the empirical data required. The fieldwork identified three interdependent aggregate dimensions impacting these workers’ well-being: 1) social displacement, struggles with factory life and the trade-offs with long-term life goals; 2) frustration and demotivation due to operational problems and 3) work relationships impacting self-worth. Operational problems causing loss of remuneration were understood to impact workers’ life goals, which in turn undermined working relationships. The first research question was answered: Workers’ inability to influence operational issues led them to lose all hope of achieving their longer-term goals, damaging their eudaimonic and social well-being in the factories. This suggested two training interventions to address some identified operational and interpersonal problems in the work environment. Comparing pre- and post-intervention data indicated that these interventions had influenced both well-being and performance. Most significantly, post-intervention diaries indicated a reduction in negative sentiment. Factory-level metrics, supplied by factory management, indicated that the training had improved factory performance. Worker attrition also appeared significantly reduced after training. The second research question was answered: There were indications that interventions had positively impacted both workers’ sentiment and some aspects of factory performance. This work achieves transparency for the first time into the concerns of workers in Chinese factories, indicating that eudaimonic factors impact their well-being more than the hedonic factors now typically monitored. Unlike most Sustainable Supply Chain Management (SSCM) literature, which focuses on physical conditions, it highlights workers’ complex relationships with colleagues and line leaders. This brings empirical evidence and detail to a discussion long overdue, creating a basis for further theory development in supply-chain social sustainability, specifically around workers and impacts on their well-being. It also contributes to the Psychological Capital (PsyCap) literature, which had mainly focused on western workplaces and relied on surveys, by allowing for a more reliable well-being assessment. By measuring these workers’ well-being longitudinally over an extended period it allowed the researcher to infer causality, while using the factory’s performance metrics avoided data-integrity issues. This novel research connects SSCM with workplace well-being theory. It advances the knowledge with both an understanding of the well-being of workers in Chinese factories, hitherto missing from SSCM literature, and a more nuanced approach to the theory on workers’ well-being. It changes how these factories and their workers are seen by presenting the picture from a new and more relevant perspective.





Mukesh, Kumar


worker well-being, digital diaries, CSR audit, supply chain, productivity, CSR, Factory Audits, Workers Well-being, Factory productivity, Digital Diaries


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge