The Difference between Job Satisfaction and Employee Engagement is critical to the long-term success of an organization.  

Organizations with high job satisfaction have a workforce that is satisfied with their pay, benefits, and working conditions.  These are companies that have people that generally are “satisfied” with their role.  They may or may not enjoy their work, but most generally strive to be good associates.  In organizations with high satisfaction, you will also have highly engaged performers.  Those are the “A” players or “10s” as we label them.  They are the ones that are internally motivated and usually are the ones that rise within a company.

Employee Engagement, however, is an entirely different animal.  High engagement has a work force that feels acknowledged, valued, and heard.  Engaged employees align with the company’s values and mission.  They don’t simply follow leadership, they become leadership.  Leadership of their teams, their duties, their widgets.   They have a personal cost to ensuring that their role and the role of everyone around them is never less than their best efforts. 

Focusing on engagement has a longer term cost to a company

Unfortunately, many organizations envision as just this, a cost center.   A pay raise is a quick fix for job satisfaction and a smaller potential impact on net margin. However, the investment in actual employee self development and growth which will create higher employee engagement is actually larger with a longer time to see a valued return and therefore can be seen as prohibitive to the bottom line.   However, studies have shown that organizations with higher engagement have long term higher efficiency, lower turnover, and diminished absenteeism.  Countless studies, in the last 10-15 years, have shown a 30-50% improvement in efficiency in engaged employees, 15% less turnover, and on average 3.5 days less in PTO usage.  Therefore, while the cost of engaging in employees may cost more in expense and time, the long-term benefit and sustainability of an organization should be considered as a very justifiable ROI.

An organization with High Satisfaction obviously will have a more stable workforce than one with lower satisfaction; however, it can be a false sense of security. A satisfied but disengaged workforce is at risk for attrition due to competition pay, policy change unfavorable to the associate, or simply a newer more interesting company down the street.   In short, highly satisfied employees are a great goal, but without Engagement is a brittle goal at best.

Engagement should exist at all levels within an organization

A common problem in engagement is that it often focused on a hierarchy of an organization.   The real role, I would argue, the responsibility of an organization should be to improve engagement by investing in all levels of the organization.  From the Housekeeper to the General Manager, both should be an investment for engagement.   The CNA to the CEO should have equal access to personal development and coaching.  In fact, it is the front line, entry level worker of any and every organization that will make the organization a success.  This can be done through satisfaction tactics in the short term but to build a sustainable culture and legacy… you need to invest in engagement.

To think of these concepts in another way we can look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.   Within Maslow’s model an associate can not move to higher level need until the lower-level needs are met.   Also, within Maslow’s model, as you ascend the hierarchy, the more you see experiential commitment and buy-in to the company’s mission, and personal growth.

The goal of an organization should be to move their associates up each level from Satisfaction to Engagement.  

However, each level toward self-actualization and true life balance shifts the focus to the associate as opposed to the operating metric or corporate culture.   This in term takes more time to identify with and provide the associate with what they need to feel engaged, therefore it truly must become a disciplined investment of an organization to truly put “their people first”.

Take for example the mid-level of Belonging, there is a movement afoot to focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.   There are daily job listings looking for Diversity Directors.   This has no measurable key operating metric, but it has an indirect benefit to each metric if your workforce feels they are a inclusive demographic with a key voice in your organization. 

As we move up the needs to Esteem, leadership often confuses this recognition as a form of employee engagement such as “gifts:” Employee of the Quarter, Award Ceremonies, etc.  This is in fact recognition that correlates more with a lower level such as safety.  It provides the associate with a confirmation they are doing a good job for your organization, but it fails to recognize why  THEY are important.  Recognition at the Esteem level is the act of identifying what is important to the associate and how that benefits the shared value of the associate with the organization.   This level of recognition is the level where the associates see and feel the contribution they have made for the whole of the organization, and in doing so they feel more valued and important.

The top level of the pyramid is where organizations must aspire to emulate.  This LITERALLY is the pinnacle of Employee Engagement.   It is the level where every associate feels valued.  They feel supported in their personal goals.  They believe their employer is their safety net to be innovative and creative… not only in work…but in life.

This level of engagement takes time.  It takes dedication to the workforce both temporally and financially.   However, imagine your organization investing in your greatest resource to help them find self-fulfillment, life balance, personal goals, and individuality.   Imagine an organization that becomes a workforce of all “A Players” or “10”s.   Every associate has the potential to be just that if only an organization believes they have an obligation to support and create that potential.

Find what makes your people “tick”. Why do they want to work for you, and then provide them with the canvas to create a vision of the organization that you all have dreamed of.  Create a workforce of Engagement, not just Satisfaction, and create an organization of sustainability and a destination employer for transformational change.