We're all familiar with the square-rectangle logic -- all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. It's the same for satisfied employees and engaged employees. While an engaged employee is satisfied with her job, a satisfied employee isn't necessarily engaged with hers.

Unfortunately, some organizations see employee engagement and employee satisfaction as one and the same. In reality, satisfaction is the bare minimum. Job satisfaction keeps employees around but it doesn't really inspire them to do more than fulfill the fundamental requirements of their role.

Here's how you can differentiate between employee engagement and employee satisfaction.

A One-Way Street

A satisfied but ungaged employee generally enjoys what she does for a living, but for the most part, her job is a means to a paycheck. While she probably isn't bragging about the company to her friends, she isn't complaining about it too much, either. She completes her tasks as assigned and is likely willing to work more hours as necessary, so she's still productive and valuable members of the workforce. But you likely won't see her going beyond the basic responsibilities outlined in her job description or pitching ideas to upper management about ways to improve the organization.

The attitude of satisfied but unengaged employees is, "What can you do for me?" They are mostly concerned the requirements for satisfaction revolve around the core reasons for employment. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)'s 2016 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Report, 63 percent of working adults say their compensation is the one of the top contributors to their overall job satisfaction. And 60 percent rated benefits as very important to their satisfaction as well.

A Two-Way Street

Engaged employees, on the other hand, are the ones who ask their employers, "What can you do for me and what can I do in return?" They are emotionally invested in the success of the business and are committed to helping the company achieve its goals.

In SHRM's report, respondents showed the elements that impact their engagement are focused on the organization en masse and less employee-centric like the requirements for satisfaction. Relationships with coworkers and opportunities to use skills and abilities were reported as "very important" to 77 percent of employees. And just below that was meaningfulness of the job, which 76 percent of participants said was "very important."

The difference between an engaged and unengaged employee is a willingness to exert discretionary effort. Discretionary effort is the difference between meeting the minimum requirements of one's job and exceeding expectations in order to further the organization's mission and support the business as a whole.

How to Elevate Employee Engagement

Building a satisfied workforce is relatively straightforward: offer employees competitive salaries and benefit packages. Encouraging engagement is a bit more complicated.

A good way to approach this is to use Gallup's Q12 employee engagement instrument, a survey tool that can be used to measure how an employee feels about her job. The Q12 involves asking an employee about 12 different factors which fall into the following four categories:

  1. Basic Needs. Employee engagement relies on the employee not only knowing the responsibilities and requirements of her role, but also on having the tools and workplace technologies to fulfill these duties.

  2. Individual Contributions. For an employee to be engaged, she must be able to contribute to the company in a measurable way, see the outcome of her efforts and be recognized for her work.

  3. Teamwork/Community. Engaged employees believe the work that they and their colleagues do is important and is valued by the organization. They feel a sense of community at their workplace and know their opinions are respected.

  4. Growth. An organization that fosters employee engagement is one where the workforce is both encouraged to pursue professional development opportunities as well as offered those opportunities by the business directly.

Measuring employee engagement is not a once-a-year thing. In order to develop an impactful engagement strategy, management teams must regularly check in with their employees and ask them not only about their feelings about their present situation but also their past experiences and expectations about the future. Taking this more dynamic approach to measurement enables business leaders to more quickly identify trends and enact meaningful change in the organization.

Published on: Sep 28, 2017