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Capturing the psychological well-being of Chinese factory workers

Minette Bellingan (Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)
Catherine Tilley (King's Business School, King's College London, London, UK)
Luciano Batista (Department of Operations and Information Management, Aston Business School, Birmingham, UK)
Mukesh Kumar (Department of Engineering, Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)
Steve Evans (Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 14 July 2020

Issue publication date: 20 November 2020




Businesses are under pressure to ensure social responsibility in their globalised supply chains. However, conventional factory audits are not providing adequate data about production workers’ well-being. Industry attempts to measure working conditions have shown bias and inconsistency, and there is no consensus on what to measure, or how. Well-being can be intangible and difficult to capture without appropriate theoretical and methodological frameworks. This paper investigates factors influencing the well-being of a Chinese factory’s workers, tests an innovative research method, and proposes interventions to improve well-being in factories.


This is a longitudinal study using the diaries of production workers at a large assembly manufacturing site in China. Workers left daily digital voice diaries about their day, which were analysed to identify factors related to their well-being at work.


The picture is more complex than the concerned Western narrative suggests. Workers’ personal and professional concerns extend beyond the criteria currently measured in audits, tending to be more relational and less about their physical state.

Practical implications

The current approach of auditing management practices neglects workers’ well-being. This study offers a more comprehensive view of well-being and tests a new method of investigation.


This is the first study to use diary methods in a Chinese factory. It addresses an issue supported by little empirical evidence. It is the first longitudinal study to hear from factory workers themselves about how they are and what impacts their well-being daily.



The authors thank the editor and the associate editor, as well as two anonymous reviewers for their helpful and insightful comments which helped improve the paper significantly. We would also thank all the factory owners for providing access and the factory workers for sharing their diaries. Although they remain anonymous, without them the research would not have been possible. This work received no external funding and the authors declare no conflict of interest.


Bellingan, M., Tilley, C., Batista, L., Kumar, M. and Evans, S. (2020), "Capturing the psychological well-being of Chinese factory workers", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 40 No. 7/8, pp. 1269-1289.



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