Employee Satisfaction is not Employee Engagement


Many businesses have been measuring employee satisfaction for years with the belief that satisfied employees are more engaged and do better work than unsatisfied ones.  While there are certainly some components of satisfaction that might lead to more engagement, if we are focused primarily on keeping our employees satisfied, we may not be keeping them engaged.  Satisfied employees can still be completely disengaged and it’s important to understand the difference.

What we call engagement is similar to the concept that Hungarian Psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined when he used the term flow.  It occurs when people are fully present, working at their best, committed to the success of what they are involved in and using all of their knowledge, skill and experience to make something positive happen.  People today often refer to this state as being ‘in the zone”. Employees can be fully satisfied though and still be very far from this highly engaged state.

If our efforts are to satisfy people, our focus is on giving them what they want.  If we are working toward building an engaged workforce, our focus should be on giving them what they need.  According to Csikszentmihalyi,  flow has several important components including, clear goals, a sense of challenge and direct and immediate feedback.  There are many times that we turn away from components like these as we work to keep employees satisfied.

Many companies pursue employee satisfaction by subsidizing lunches or putting free coffee in the break room.  While they may satisfy a temporary want, these kinds of efforts do not lead to employee engagement.  On the other hand, most managers struggle with delivering direct and immediate feedback and yet that is a component that is essential for employee engagement.  It has to be both positive and negative feedback, by the way.

Managers and businesses focusing on satisfaction will work to make an employee’s job easier and yet to contribute to engagement we need to find the right level of challenge for the person.  The work needs to be a bit of a stretch for them, but not so much of one that they don’t have some success.  We are fully engaged when we are pushing ourselves but still capable of winning.

Engagement comes when we are in a culture that expects and celebrates success, have a coach that helps us develop and learn, and have a connection to what we are doing and the difference we make.   Viable businesses can still fail with satisfied employees.  Build a team of engaged employees and failure becomes highly unlikely.  Only then, in fact, can you capture the full potential of your company.

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