Employee Satisfaction is Overrated

For twenty-three years, we have conducted Employee Engagement Surveys. We have never conducted an Employee Satisfaction Survey. Why? We learned early on that you can have satisfied and happy employees while leading a company right out of business.

What would make an employee satisfied? High wages, good benefits, predictability, a kind boss, job security, and an absence of any stress would probably lead to an employee’s satisfaction. What this all adds up to is employees who are really comfortable. This violates one of our theories of great leadership; great leaders keep people uncomfortable.

We define engagement as employees who are connected both at the head and the heart, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Contrast this definition of engagement with “Employee Satisfaction”, which only measures satisfaction and happiness. It does not measure their level of passion, motivation, or willingness to get the job done.

The following eight tips will help you become even more successful in building an environment that cultivates employee engagement, not just satisfaction.

  1. Conduct an employee engagement survey every 12-18 months. By asking the right questions, you can determine employees’ level of engagement and their relationship with their immediate supervisor. Why is their relationship with the supervisor so important? The old adage is so true: employees join a company when they come to work, but they leave a company because of their relationship with their immediate supervisor and co-workers.
  2. Ensure that employees are crystal clear on their goals, outcomes and expected results. The clearer an employee is on how their goals and expected outcomes relate to the goals of the overall organization, the easier it is for them to see that their work makes a significant difference.
  3. Empower employees. If you don’t trust employees to make the right decision, then you do not have the right employees. When people feel trusted, they usually go out of their way to do the right thing and make the right decisions because they don’t want to undermine the bonds of trust that someone has in them.
  4. Include employees in decisions that impact their job. Failing to involve employees in the decision making process of something that affects their area of work, usually leads to bad results. Involve relevant employees in these decisions to gain accurate information from the people actually doing the work, and to make them feel that their input matters.
  5. Provide ample recognition and appreciation. When people are willing to provide discretionary effort and are willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, leaders need to provide a lot of recognition, appreciation and rewards where appropriate. Without an ample dose of praise and recognition, people begin to feel like they are taken for granted. This leads employees to ask the question, “Why should I go out of my way to do whatever it takes to get the job done when it’s not even appreciated?”
  6. Hire engaged employees. We’ve written about this point in the past. In an interview, you can get a good sense of the level of someone’s engagement in the position, in your company’s mission, and in life in general. Engaged people take more actions in seeking out the ideal job opportunity than people who are not engaged. When compared to people who are disengaged, people who are engaged are much more proactive in taking action to get their goals accomplished. Great leaders are not threatened by people who take action…they are invigorated by the opportunity to work with people who also want to raise the bar and improve the organization’s condition.
  7. Coach and mentor employees. While not every employee is excited about continuing to learn and grow, many are. One of the best ways to increase engagement levels is to really know your employees, including what parts of their job excite them and where they would like to expand their skills. Provide training and experience that promote further development for employees who are motivated to gain additional expertise. Helping employees stretch and grow by coaching or mentoring is a sure way to increase their levels of engagement.
  8. Fire people who suck. There are some people that will never find it within themselves to become engaged, no matter how great the company culture is. They are much more content going through their employment life playing the victim and waiting for someone to tell them what to do. Unfortunately, it is some of these same people that not only lack engagement, they also lack satisfaction and happiness in life. Our Employee Engagement Survey data tells us that 4 percent of the employee population believes that their current employer is below average or well below compared to other previous employers. What’s amazing is that the 4 percent seldom changes regardless of the companies who are surveyed.

We are highly motivated to partner with our clients to help them build cultures where employees love to come to work and customers love to do business. However, we know that the real reason an employee loves coming to work has much more to do with engagement than satisfaction. This engagement results from excitement about being a part of an important team; knowing the work they do makes a difference for the team and organization; and the ability to continually learn and grow. We are passionate about engagement and know the tips above will help you in building a culture of engagement.

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