Saturday, April 21, 2012

Are Quality Professionals Happy on the Job?

Forbes Magazine recently named the software quality assurance engineer as the “happiest job” in the U.S.  Forbes says, “Professionals with this job title are typically involved in the entire software development process to ensure the quality of the final product…Software quality assurance engineers feel rewarded at work, as they are typically the last stop before software goes live and correctly feel that they are an integral part of the job being done at the company.”

ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asks if other quality professionals are happy on the job, and what we might do to raise the voice of quality.

In a summary reported by Susan Heathfield (Human Resources expert): "According to a 2009 report by The Conference Board, based on a survey of 5,000 U.S. households, only 45% of those surveyed say that they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1% in 1987, the first year in which the survey was conducted. While overall employee satisfaction has declined to 45%, the percentage of employees satisfied with their jobs is lowest in the under 25 age group with only 35.7% satisfied. Among employees in the age group 25-34, 47.2% are satisfied; employees in the age group 35-44 scored 43.4% in job satisfaction. Employees in the 45-54 age range scored 46.8%; employees 55-64 scored 45.6% in employee satisfaction and, of those employees age 65 and over, 43.4% are satisfied."

A Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) study found that employees identified these five factors as most important:
  • job security,
  • benefits (especially health care) with the importance of retirement benefits rising with the age of the employee,
  • compensation/pay,
  • opportunities to use skills and abilities, and
  • feeling safe in the work environment.
The next five most important factors affecting employee satisfaction were:
  • the employee's relationship with his or her immediate supervisor,
  • management recognition of employee job performance,
  • communication between employees and senior management,
  • the work itself, and
  • autonomy and independence in their job.
Susan Heathfield states that more important than decreasing employee satisfaction is the fact that "The U.S. has a problem with employee engagement." In this year’s SHRM survey, U.S. employees were only moderately engaged (3.6) on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is highly engaged.

A book that I recommend to every supervisor, manager and executive interested in increasing their employees' morale and engagement - and increased organizational performance-  is John Fleming's Human Sigma. Engaged employees create engaged customers who foster organizational success by delivering positive financial outcomes. Employee engagement is the ability to capture the heads, hearts, and souls of employees to instill an intrinsic desire and passion for excellence. Engaged employees want their organization to succeed because they feel connected emotionally, socially, and even spiritually to its mission, vision, and purpose.

So, am I happy on the job?  I have enjoyed many diverse experiences as a quality professional over my 30 year career, progressing from an entry-level QA engineer to Sr. Mgr. of Corporate Quality Services and Lean Six Sigma Operations in a $30 B multinational company. I also dabbled in product development, process development, and technical service. Most days, yes, I actually look forward to coming to work. To what do I attribute my success and satisfaction? From very early in my career I had a role model and mentor who encouraged me to continue my professional development while pursuing stretch growth opportunities. Through this mentor I became involved with the ASQ Statistics Division where I was able to develop and hone my leadership and strategic planning skills - skills that would be highly valued by my employer. 3M has a strong culture of innovation. My supervisors and managers have consistently provided me the autonomy and independence to pursue my genius and develop my personal brand ('QualityBob'), while rewarding me with roles of increasing responsibility. Over the years my professional focus has shifted from a decided technical methods and tools focus to leadership, strategy, people and systems focus. I still enjoy teaching, coaching and consulting but I also take great pride in developing my direct reports and helping them succeed to leadership positions.

Building a network of friends and colleagues in my chosen profession is an important contributor to my satisfaction and engagement. I take great pride in my membership with ASQ (Fellow, Past chair ASQ Statistics Division, Chair-elect MNASQ), my participation with the MN Council for Quality (MN Baldrige Evaluator), and the enduring friendships I have cultivated in Quality worldwide.

I believe that raising the voice of Quality to build employee engagement requires a commitment to enhancing the "Total Customer Experience"; continuous improvement of business processes; and, employee recognition and development.


  1. The main factor which promotes job satisfaction is pride of workmanship. This of course was strongly articulated by Deming, and it merited an entire point (point 12) which demanded the removal of "barriers of pride of workmanship", which for me, requires three overlapping requirements:

    1. The pride of accomplishment or achievement of product and service quality, obtained from being able to deliver a quality product or service to the customer.

    2. The pride of knowing that you have improved the process that is producing the quality product or service, derived from the satisfaction of having improved the quality of how the work task will be accomplished by yourself and others.

    3. The pride of having personally and successfully engaged in learning (see below) brought about by the realisation that one has used and applied existing knowledge and experience to generate new knowledge and advance what you already knows.

    So how is this “pride” attained? Here’s a quote from The Man Who Discovered Quality: How W. Edwards Deming Brought the Quality Revolution to America:

    "An employee deserves to take pride in his [or her] work. . . . Deming believed that this pride, or 'joy' as he offen refers fo it, comes from self-improvement and that it is the company's job to offer opportunities for continuous education."

    Deming himself in The New Economics claimed that:

    ".. people are born with a natural inclination to learn. Learning is a source of innovation. One inherits a right to enjoy his [or her] work. Good management helps us to nurture and preserve these positive innate attributes of people."

    Here you make the Theory Y assumption that people:

    :: "like" to work,
    :: "enjoy" challenging work, and
    :: are willing to "take responsibility" for work outcomes

    Deming consistently promoted the intrinsic nature of work, and as a result, he was against the use of extrinsic rewards (e.g. Points 10 and 11); Deming in The New Economics noted the need to preserve:

    "the power of intrinsic motivation, dignity, cooperation, curiosity, [and] joy in learning that people are born with."

    So, for me yet again, whether or not you want to know about "selling quality" or job satisfaction/happiness just have to look back at the points Deming made to get all the answers.

  2. Excellent!! Hapiness is a way of life, and help others trough giving your wisdom!! Congrats!!

  3. Enjoyed your article Mr. Mitchell but I think that the SHRM study missed a couple things, I think that the two most important things for a person to feel satisfied in there job is the opportunity to feel challanged and the opportunity to continue education.

    When you challange a individual you are empowering that individual and allowing them to feel more valuable in the company. When people feel more value they feel more satisfaction and more want to improve themselves and the company.

    The second one is continuing education and that does not mean with degrees and cerifications but also with organizations and community involvement which you have shown has helped you become the indicidual you are.

    All of these though can only take you so far if you do not have the big one that you mentioned helped you and that I am still looking for as a recent college graduate and that is a mentor. Mentors push you to challange yourself, develop yourself and be yourself.

    I really feel that a company that develops and values all three of these characteristics will have an individual that is driven and satisfied in there job, there role and there value to there company.

    A side not congratulations Mr. Mitchell on being the new Chair of the Minnesota ASQ section. I look forward to to seeing the goals and direction you place within the section.