Employee Satisfaction vs. Employee Engagement: Both, Either, Neither?

Answer this quickly! Which would you prefer: an engaged employee or a satisfied employee?

Most of you will say you would rather have an engaged employee. Moreover, that is not surprising. Managers used to focus on employee satisfaction then in 2011 and 2012; research discovered the link between employee engagement and high productivity, innovation, and profitability. At that point, satisfaction gave way to employee engagement as the human resources gold standard. And yet even today, most employee engagement models still include a measurement of employee satisfaction.

What’s the Difference?

According to the ADP Research Institute’s White Paper on this topic:

Employee satisfaction, then, is a lower bar than employee engagement. Satisfaction can impact retention, but probably not productivity. Employee engagement, on the other hand, does lead to enhanced productivity and positively impacting profitability. However, satisfaction and engagement may not be linked. In fact, an employee’s dissatisfaction may drive them to be more engaged in the business as a way of addressing their unhappiness.

Should All Businesses Seek Employee Engagement?

It is critical that businesses align their employee satisfaction and engagement goals with the corporate culture, company ownership, and decision-making structure, as well as department-level goals and needs. For example, a family-owned business might be more interested in maintaining control over innovation and change than other companies. Alternatively, certain departments may want employees that are fully engaged and never satisfied (creative/technical/managerial) and another department (operations, production) may want contented employees.

Jacob Morgan, writing in Forbes, identified the factors in the table below as the top ten contributors to employee satisfaction. Other researchers have identified the top ten factors contributing to employee engagement.

Top Ten Factors Contributing to Employee Satisfaction Top Ten Factors Contributing to Employee Engagement
1.     Appreciation for your work 1.     Company leadership
2.     Good relationships with colleagues 2.     Mission, Vision, Values
3.     Good work-life balance 3.     Personal Development
4.     Good relationships with superiors 4.     Self-management (autonomy)
5.     Company’s financial stability 5.     Accolades
6.     Learning and career development 6.     Supervisor or manager
7.     Job security 7.     Communication
8.     Attractive fixed salary 8.     Teamwork
9.     Interesting job content 9.     Work environment
10.  Company values 10.  Receptiveness

Each business should carefully consider what they can offer employees, and what they are not willing to offer employees. Qualitative research could be used to answer the question: What factors are management willing to leverage? Based on those factors that can be influenced, should you go for employee engagement or satisfaction?

Initiating this conversation among leadership could manifest a common understanding of employee engagement and satisfaction within a company as well as a good understanding of how to achieve it.  As leadership understands what engagement can be for their employees, they can better communicate those goals, and create changes in the organization to result in those outcomes.

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