How to Be Happier at Work

Three tenets that lead to job satisfaction

by Rosemarie Christopher and Paul Dionne

Work, ugh. There’s a reason they have to pay you to be there. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find happiness at the office.

A 2013 Gallup study revealed that worldwide, only 13% of employees are engaged at work.1 Assuming those statistics apply to quality professionals, that means seven out of eight people reading this article are not engaged at work, or perhaps not as engaged as they think they are.

One way to improve engagement and productivity is to ensure that you are happy and motivated, according to a 2014 study out of the University of Warwick in Coventry, England.2

In the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink outlines three things that make employees happy: mastery, contribution and autonomy.3 This year, make yourself and your employees happy by focusing on these three things.


According to a 2015 study by the Society for Human Resource Management, 90% of respondents listed "the organization’s overall commitment to professional development" as an important contributor to their job satisfaction.4 Only 54% of respondents, however, were satisfied with their employer’s commitment to professional development.

An engaged person would recognize that organizations are made of individuals, and that perhaps more individuals need to push for professional development within the organization. So, what are you doing to improve your skills and those of your peers?

Consider industry certifications. An ASQ study revealed that employees whose job required a certification were happier in their jobs than those whose position didn’t require a certification.5 Certifications are a great example of how to help raise the bar while empowering employees to be more engaged and effective in their positions.

Professional certifications instill the best practices in a profession by requiring a combination of coursework and hands-on experience. Certifications cover relevant government regulations while tying a professional to the ethics of a professional base outside the organization. Plus, certifications require renewal, which means that the holder must stay up-to-date on changes in the profession. All these things contribute to employees mastering their jobs while keeping an organization out of hot water with regulators.


Contribution is about how you make a difference. Job descriptions are almost universally a list of duties. Yet, high-performing employees list accomplishments in their resumes. The trick is to write your résumé for next year and list the accomplishments that you would want to be able to include. Then you can set up a system to document those results and create your game plan.

Start by listing routine duties where your organization needs change. To turn a duty into an accomplishment, include specific measurements from the beginning and end of the task. As an example, a duty would be "handles customer complaints," while an accomplishment would be to "reduce the number of weekly complaints 40%, saving $500,000/year," or "reduce the backlog of customer complaints by 80%."

This leads to a second suggestion specific to quality: Take your corrective and preventive actions (CAPA) seriously. A complaint can be viewed as a time when your organization let a customer down, but it also can be viewed as an opportunity to prevent letting future customers down. Quality professionals can shine by devising and implementing preventative actions that will improve satisfaction.

Complaints also are an opportunity to directly connect to your customers, which can lead to a more authentic relationship. A study involving radiologists at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem found that seeing photos of the patients’ faces boosted radiologists’ performance (that is they spotted more unexpected abnormalities). The radiologists said viewing the photos made them feel more empathy for the patients.6 Can you add tools such as Skype, FaceTime, Google Chat into your complaints and CAPA program so you can connect with the people you serve in a more meaningful way?


Just as you can have a plan for developing your mastery, you can develop a plan for achieving more autonomy. Autonomy is based on trust. It’s about being empowered as a professional. Part of that trust and empowerment stems from having proper training and credentialing (see mastery), while part of it comes from your relationship with your boss.

Harvard Business Review ran a series on managing up, the process whereby one manages his or her boss.7 They give three solid pieces of advice: Know how to anticipate your boss’s needs, understand what makes your boss tick and what ticks your boss off, and learn the right way to bring a problem to your boss.


  1. Steve Crabtree, "Worldwide, 13% of Employees are Engaged at Work," Gallup, http://tinyurl.com/m7nvrmo.
  2. Andrew J. Oswald, Eugenio Proto and Daniel Sgroi, "Happiness and Productivity," IZA Journal of European Labor Studies, Vol. 3, February 2014.
  3. Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, April 2011.
  4. "2015 Job Satisfaction and Employee Engagement Report," Society for Human Resource Management, April 28, 2015.
  5. Max Christian Hansen, "A Winning Hand?" Quality Progress, December 2015, pp. 16-21.
  6. Julie Steenhuysen, "Patient Photos Boost Radiologists’ Performance," Reuters, Dec. 2, 2008.
  7. Dana Rousmaniere, "What Everyone Should Know About Managing Up," Harvard Business Review, Jan. 23, 2015.

Rosemarie Christopher is president and CEO of MEIRxRS, a search firm for scientific and technical professionals in pharmaceutical, medical device, biologics, diagnostics and biotech companies in Glendale, CA. She has a master's degree in communication management from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Christopher is an ASQ member and the chair of the ASQ Food, Drug and Cosmetic Division.

Paul Dionne is a business developer for MEIRxRS in Glendale, CA. He holds an MBA from Boston University.

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