Joy in Work in the Quality Improvement Field

As I mentioned previously, I will be posting on a topics raised by Paul Borawski, CEO, ASQ as part of ASQ Influential Voices. This month Paul’s post, Are Quality Professionals Happy On the Job? looks at job happiness in the quality improvement field.

Paul stated he “wasn’t surprised that Forbes Magazine named software quality assurance engineer as the ‘happiest job’ in the U.S.” I was. Frankly looking at the results I question the methodology used – I just find their claims questionable. Whether any ranking could be sensible is also a reasonable question. I do believe certain careers make people happier than others, I question whether you can sensibly differentiate the top 20.

Still, looking at the happiness of those in the quality field is an interesting topic. My father created a challenge for me. He loved what he did: professor (statistics, chemical engineer, industrial engineer, business) and consultant (same things, with focus on quality and management improvement). Helping achieve better results was important to him. And helping create joy in work was also. It took me a while to see how much of an outlier he was – finding people who love what they do is much rarer than those that complain a great deal I have found.

That software development ranks toward the top doesn’t surprise me. Software programmers are some of the people happiest in their jobs in my experience. My experience is biased toward those given more freedom than those working in large bureaucracies (I can imagine those programmers are less happy overall). In addition to being happier with their jobs they also are demanding. They are not the least challenging of authority (some managers seem to equate docility with happiness, but that isn’t accurate, in my opinion).

To me the quality field allows for a great deal of joy in work. That doesn’t mean it is without frustration. I think the field does have a fairly high level of frustration as many are stuck in systems that are moving much to slowly to improve management practices. This is the biggest concern I find from most in the quality improvement field. So in order to be happy one has to learn to cope with some frustration while making good progress and finding happiness in all the achievements even while knowing more could be done.

Related: The Importance of Management ImprovementRespect People by Creating a Climate for Joy in WorkRespect for People: Optimize for Developer Happiness at EtsyCreate a System That Lets People Take Pride in Their WorkSigns You Have a Great Job … or Not


photo of carved door, Ibadan, Nigeria

Carved door, Ibadan, Nigeria by Bill Hunter

Those efforts that put primary importance on respect for people (lean manufacturing) and joy in work (Deming) I think provide the most happiness. Making other people happy is great source of happiness. And such success can overcome the frustration of not achieving as much systemic improvement as quickly as one would like. To achieve great results and increase your happiness make creating joy in work an important part of your management improvement system.

Across numerous job happiness ratings over the years I have seen mathematician, actuaries, accountants and software engineers rated very highly.

Among those in the quality (lean, six sigma, Deming…) field that I know they are much happier with their career than most people (software developers and professors are also quite happy). My sample is extremely biased, however.

I think a quality improvement career is a great one for those that want to make a difference and are willing to accept many setback as long as they also have many successes. Those who are unhappy I think most often fall into one of two categories: have become frustrated by the difficulty of creating and sustaining improvement efforts and have given up and are staying in an organization that has beaten them down. I think to counter this perseverance, continual improvement of yourself and knowing when is the right time to move on, are the keys to happiness in the field.

In my view to be successful in this field you need to push for improvement you have to be willing to accept those that are not interested in changing the status quo will attempt to slow you down and stop you. But the benefits of improvement will reward those that are willing to do the hard work to move their organization forward.

Triva: I once had a job that was considered one of the 10 worst jobs in Washington DC.

4 thoughts on “Joy in Work in the Quality Improvement Field

  1. I’m a big fan of the progress principle, which suggests that the key to work happiness is simply a case of making progress.

    If we’re doing our job in improving processes then it would seem natural to assume that these small wins are making us pretty happy.

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  2. Stephanie Donato

    I really like your article! Many salient points, & especially about reasons people become unhappy. It’s easy to become frustrated with obstacles when creating & sustaining quality systems, but the challenge becomes helping the culture to change. As I heard in a ASQ section meeting this week, quality is no longer a policing function, now it’s finding value added opportunities. I’m faced with both by installing a new standard, and then auditing it to maintain the new level. It’s hard!
    Thanks for the sage insights.

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  3. Excellent article. I completely agree that breaking out of the status quo is what sets you apart in your work. Adding to that doing what you love helps quite a bit :}. Author John R. Fox writes about how to effectively manage the software development process in his book, Digital Work in an Analog World. One of the issues he addresses is how managers can better lead their teams. I highly recommend this one to anyone working in or looking to enter the software profession. You can find the author’s website.

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  4. There’s a great book by Dan Pink called Drive that talks about what motivates people and encourages a more rewarding career. The three factors are Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose (notice $$ is not included). Meaning, if you know what you are doing you are let alone to do it, you have the opportunity to continue to get better at what you are doing, and that you see a bigger purpose of the job you are doing. Happiness in my opinion is often derived where you have these three aspects and you personally choose to be happy. If I ever feel depressed about my job because I am being beaten down by an organization unwilling to change, I think about the opportunity I (and probably many reading this) have to make my own destiny. Happiness comes from the individual and if you aren’t willing to accept that you have (for the most parts) a job that pays the bills and gives you the opportunity to learn, there is probably little in the world that will make you happy.

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