Dr. Deming was fond of promoting the idea that every employee should be able to achieve joy at work and that joy would lead to improved quality and a high performance organization. The research on happiness or positive psychology supports the value of his intuition. Seeking happiness is consistent with seeking a high performance organization.

“Management’s overall aim should be to create a system in which everybody may take joy in his work.” Dr. W. Edwards Deming

The cynic may picture workers sitting around with a drink in hand, party hats, and dancing around the workplace in a silly display of “joy.” But, obviously that is not what Deming was promoting. He was promoting the need and possibility of intrinsic reinforcement, joy from the job itself, the achievement, the self-satisfaction derived from the ability to improve and control one’s own work.

We have all experienced joy in our work. Whenever I have asked clients to identify the time they felt most joy in their work they are likely to describe a time when they were engaged in meeting a challenge and succeeding. That challenge might be learning a new job or developing and instituting a new process or product. Or, they may point to a time when they were working with a great team of colleagues who shared the same goal and determination. In other words, they were not partying, they were performing. Great parties are quickly forgotten; great performance is long remembered.

Happiness and the High Performance Organization

Dr. Deming’s instruction was based more on his own excellent intuition than on any research. However, in the past 20 years, the most popular area of psychological research has been in what is known as positive psychology, very simply the study of psychological wellness, rather than illness. The first book I read on this subject was Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman and I recommend it highly. Since its publication, there have been a flood of happiness books. I would encourage you to exploreDr. Seligman’s Authentic Happiness website where you can take a survey to find out how happy you are while at the same time contributing to his research database.

So, what is the big finding of positive psychology?

“The belief that we can rely on shortcuts to happiness, joy, rapture, comfort, and ecstasy, rather than be entitled to these feelings by the exercise of personal strengths and virtues, leads to legions of people who in the middle of great wealth are starving spiritually. Positive emotions alienated from the exercise of character leads to emptiness, to in-authenticity, to depression, and, as we age, to the gnawing realization that we are fidgeting until we die.” (Authentic Happiness, p. 8)

In other words, if eating chocolate sundaes, sex and money resulted in authentic happiness you would find the happiest people to be those who have the most money, sex and ice cream. But, that simply isn’t so. They are more likely to be the most depressed and anxious. What does lead to happiness is knowing what your strengths are, developing and exercising those strengths; and exercising the virtues of character and strong social relationships. People who have a strong community of relatives and friends are happier than those who have few friends and only distant relatives. Those who are optimistic and have hope in achieving a positive goal are happier than those who are pessimistic or feeling helpless.