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Stop Wasting Time Worrying About Employee Satisfaction

This past week I had the opportunity to do a leadership presentation for a new client. After the presentation I asked my client (we’ll call him Jason) if his company had ever done a survey to measure employee engagement. “Oh, yes,” he replied. “We do an Employee Satisfaction Survey every year.”

I asked Jason why his company measures satisfaction instead of engagement. “We believe a satisfied employee is an engaged employee,” he replied. I spent the next half hour explaining why nothing could be farther from the truth. If you offer me the opportunity to work from home two days a week, I’ll be very satisfied but I may not be engaged in helping the company realize its bigger vision. If you offer me free lunch and a hot fudge sundae cart in the afternoon, I’ll be very satisfied (because I really like hot fudge sundaes) but I may not be engaged in helping the company take customer service to a whole new level.

You see, satisfaction seldom leads to engagement, but engagement often leads to satisfaction. If you’ve engaged me by providing challenging and meaningful work, I’ll be a satisfied employee. If you’ve engaged me by helping me grow professionally, I’ll be a satisfied employee. If you’ve engaged me by providing a competitive salary and benefits, I’ll be a satisfied employee. If you’ve engaged me by giving me input into decisions and respecting me as an employee, I’ll be a satisfied employee.

Some people have suggested employee engagement was a buzzword and that it’s time to change our focus to something else. While there are many things we should focus on to improve the culture within an organization, employee engagement should continue to be a priority. According to a recent article by The Gallup Organization, companies with highly engaged employees outperform their peers by 147% in earnings per share and realize:

  • 41% fewer quality defects

  • 48% fewer safety incidents

  • 28% less shrinkage

  • 65% less turnover (low-turnover organizations)

  • 25% less turnover (high-turnover organizations)

  • 37% less absenteeism

If this isn’t enough to convince you to keep engagement as your focus, consider these three reasons:

(1) The economy still has not fully recovered from the tough times of the recession, and several industries still struggle to find a new norm. As a result, some employees are working really hard. However, hard work is not an indication of engagement. An employee who comes in early and stays late is not necessarily the sign of an engaged employee. An employee who is doing the work of two or three employees is not necessarily the sign of an engaged employee. We cannot confuse hard work with engagement.

(2) With continued uncertainty in the economy, many organizations are working with leaner teams. With smaller teams to perform the work, it is essential that employers get the most from employees. When times were great and organizations had plenty of employees to get the job done, it was rather easy for leaders to overlook disengaged employees. In fact, mediocrity was accepted as long as the organization was meeting its targets. Those days are gone. The surest way to get the most from employees is to build a culture of engagement.

(3) Although the economy has not fully recovered, it has improved to the point employees have a few options other than their current job. For years, many employees stayed in poorly led organizations because their options were few. Now that good employees have more options, it is imperative for leaders to ensure they are keeping these good employees by building a culture of engagement.

And if these three reasons aren’t enough, consider this. There often is a disconnect between the leader’s perception of employee engagement and the employee’s perception of employee engagement. Regardless of the strength of an organization, the view of employee engagement (and how that ties to the overall culture of the organization) is always different from the boardroom to the break room. After nearly two decades of working with clients, I have found the engagement of employees is never as high as the leaders believe it is.

Satisfaction on the job is great, but it does not lead to long-term, genuine engagement. You can’t go wrong providing nice perks to enhance the workplace, but these extras will not retain your best employees and will not ensure engagement. Set the bar higher for your organization by striving for an engaged culture.

Clint Swindall

© 2015 Clint Swindall — Clint is the president & CEO of Verbalocity, Inc., a personal development company with a focus on leadership enhancement. For information about how he can enhance employee engagement in your organization, please visit, or contact him directly

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