Employee Satisfaction Is NOT The Same Thing As Employee Engagement

Posted by Rick DeMarco on 19 May 2016

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Often, when we talk to a potential client, they may start the discussion by telling us that they have very high employee engagement scores. However, upon further investigation, we find that in fact, they are really measuring satisfaction rather than engagement. So what’s the difference? First of all, I want to be clear that it is possible to have both satisfied and engaged employees. But it’s equally possible to have satisfied employees who are not engaged. 

A fairly effective way to make the distinction is to look at the types of questions included in the survey tool an organization is using to establish the metric. Questions that are really measuring satisfaction may include:

  • I am fairly compensated for the work I do
  • I am rewarded and recognized for my efforts
  • The company offers a great benefit plan
  • I have opportunities to grow my career

Positive responses to these types of questions will drive high scores that may give the impression that the organization has high engagement. But it’s the questions that are not asked that really lead to the disconnect between engagement and satisfaction. High satisfaction may be driven by a culture in which employees are not pushed to higher levels of performance. Or a culture in which employees are just comfortable with the status quo and there are no change initiatives that are forcing them out of their comfort zone. Who wouldn’t be satisfied in an organization in which you are paid fairly and have great benefits, but face no pressure to go above and beyond? Or face no pressure to connect the dots between your role and the vision and strategy of the organization

Remember, engagement is not a spectator sport. It is defined within the context of discretionary effort. Engaged employees are emotionally connected to the vision, strategy and culture and go above and beyond their required job duties to contribute to the success of the organization. In order to make that connection, it’s critical that employees know, understand, commit, and change their behavior to align with the organization. It all starts with knowledge and understanding. You can’t commit to something you don’t understand.  So effective questions used to measure employee engagement ask about understanding of the vision, strategy, brand position, and culture. They ask about the emotional connection to the organization and the passion to want to be part of its success.

Recently, CEB Communications released some research that captured the top 9 survey questions used to measure meaningful engagement. 

  1. Do you understand the strategic goals of the broader organization?
  2. Do you know what you should do to help the company meet its goals and objectives?
  3. Can you see a clear link between your work and the company’s goals and objectives?
  4. Are you proud to be a member of the team?
  5. Does your team inspire you to do your best work?
  6. Does your team help you to effectively complete your work?
  7. Do you have the appropriate amount of information to make correct decisions about your work?
  8. Do you have a good understanding of informal structures and processes at the organization?
  9. When something unexpected comes up in your work do you usually know who to ask for help?

These are the kind of questions that truly help you understand the level of engagement at your organization. They give a clear indication of an employee’s knowledge and understanding that empower him/her to give that discretionary effort and become emotionally connected to the success of the organization. 

Statisticians know that you can always get the outcome you’re looking for by structuring a survey or research in a manner that biases the results. So are you measuring satisfaction or engagement? Take a hard look at the survey tool you are using to establish your metric. It’s always about asking the right questions. 

If you want to know more about the difference and measurement of engagement versus satisfaction, give us a call.