Skip to Content

QUALITY TUESDAY: What Makes Quality Professionals Happy or Unhappy on the Job

When ASQ CEO Paul Borawski asked this month what makes quality professionals happy or unhappy on the job, I immediately thought of sharing some of the important factors that influence job happiness for everyone.  Most of these insights are directly from the work of Frederick Herzberg, a motivational theorist who introduced important research in the 60s that continues to have relevance today.

Herzberg first identified that the motivational goals of any employee are twofold:  one is to avoid pain in the workplace and the second is to achieve growth.  People on the lower need scale level – safety and security and belonging and affection – are more motivated by avoiding pain.  Those on the higher need scale of achievement and success are more interested in opportunities for growth.

At this point in our trainings we ask participants to identify on one side of an index card what motivates them on the job and on the other side what de-motivates them.  Interestingly, these lists are not opposite images of each other, but rather completely different lists.  Herzberg’s findings were important:  the items on the de-motivator side were often based on job environment, while those on the motivator side were based on job content or job enrichment.   The other important ah-ha is the realization that eliminating de-motivators does not increase motivation (remember, they are two separate lists).  Eliminating de-motivators does not cause an increase in motivation, principally because most people think the de-motivators should have been eliminated a long time ago.

So, let’s look at the motivator side of the equation.  Herzberg identified four elements that drive motivation on the job and will, in fact, cause that motivation to be generated from within, rather than externally generated.  The first motivator is competency.  If software quality assurance engineers have, according to Forbes, the “happiest job” in the U.S., it may be because they feel competent to do the job.  At NDC we often find that a new employee who lacks competency will have questionable commitment to the employer and the job until the competency is achieved.

The second factor Herzberg identified is choice.  How much autonomy does the job allow?  Can the employee choose what to work on and when?  Are increasing levels of decision-making encouraged, or does the employee feel micro-managed?  We encourage decision making on a continuum where the manager or supervisor is actively identifying how to “grow” decision making in the job description.

It not surprising that progress is the third factor for intrinsic motivation.   Most of us experience a level of dissatisfaction when the items on the To Do list remain unchanged at the end of a day.  We get a kick out of crossing things off the list and feel a sense of accomplishment, even if they weren’t the most important things.  Many jobs aren’t built for making progress, when in fact they start over from zero on a regular basis.  For the software engineer, progress can easily be plotted as project milestones are achieved and the software development – or elimination of software issues -inches toward completion.

The last factor – and probably for many, especially the GenY- Millenial worker, the most important – is the meaningfulness of the work.  Is my work making a difference?  Is there a direct line-of-sight between what I do and the impact on people and/or organizations?  Here the quality professional can stand at the head of the line.  However, what we often see is the quality professional being pigeon-holed into a policing role where his/her meaningfulness is compromised.  I know several pharmaceutical quality professionals who have pictures of their children and grandchildren on their screen savers to remind them of the meaningfulness of their work.  Likewise the software engineer can see how the software created or problem solved can influence the time to market, the quality of the product, and the success of the worker.

I encourage you to take these four factors – competency, choice, progress and meaningfulness – and rate your own job on a scale of 1(low) to 5(high) for each factor.  Now take the job of a low performer and do the same test.  Often the results are very different.  It’s important to remember this advice from Herzberg, “Not all jobs can be enriched, nor do all jobs need to be enriched.  However, if only a small percentage of the time and money that is now devoted to hygiene (dissatisfaction factors), were given to job enrichment efforts (the four factors), the return in human satisfaction would be one of the largest dividends society has ever reaped in their efforts at better personnel management.”


I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own. 


Download our FREE Quality Problem-Solving Tool Kit today!

Who We Are

An innovative training and employee development firm located in southern Vermont since 1984, we specialize in helping organizations get the most out of their people by raising the bar, inspiring potential and partnering with organizations to build a people-centered, high-engagement culture.

Our Twitter Feed