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  • Chad T. Ahern

Employee Satisfaction vs. Employee Engagement



A question I often get is what's the difference between employee satisfaction and employee engagement? So many people seem to believe that the two terms represent essentially the same thing.


​Not quite.


Employee Satisfaction

Employee satisfaction "(also known as job satisfaction), is the extent to which an individual is happy with their job and the role it plays in their life." (HRZone.com; other similar definitions available here and here.)


Companies usually measure this to find out if employees like their salaries, benefits, work spaces, etc. In general the company -- in particular, HR / People Operations professionals -- are trying to assess whether their employees like what they are GETTING from the organization.


Employee Engagement


Employee engagement, in contrast to satisfaction, is a measure of how committed, and emotionally connected an employee is to their work so they contribute their best, discretionary efforts. Another way to think of it is to consider it a measure of how well the employer is fulfilling the "core unwritten social contract between employee and employer...'if you do these things for us, we'll do what the company needs of us.'" (Wagner & Harter, pg. xi). At it's core employee engagement is about what employees are willing to GIVE.


To measure employee engagement, Gallup spend nearly a decade developing the Q12 Assessment and identified three types of employees:

  • [Actively] Engaged: these are individuals that are whole-heartily committed to their work & the mission/vision of the company, and deploy their discretionary effort as often as possible. Here in Vermont, 33% of our workforce fits this definition according to Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace Report.

  • Disengaged / Not Engaged: are individuals who might be satisfied but are not emotionally connected to their workplaces. They are are typically doing the minimum. They usually clock-in, do their work, and clock out. They aren't outwardly or intentionally holding their organizations back, but they also aren't going home thinking about their organization's greatest challenges and solutions. 53% of Vermont's workforce fits this definition.

  • Actively Disengaged: are individuals that are those that have little, if any, emotional connection to their work or employer, have not interest in devoting any effort to support their organizations, and usually jeopardize their team's or organization's performance. 14% of Vermont's workforce falls in this group.

Why The Difference Matters

Most national surveys place employee satisfaction around 80%-85%, meaning that most workers like what their employers provide them. By comparison, employee engagement continues to hover around 33%.


There are two critical conclusions these two numbers highlight:

  1. Most workers are thrilled to take what their employers' provide (salaries, benefits, etc.), but have little emotional interest or investment in giving of themselves for the organization's benefit.

  2. Companies are (likely) investing their dollars in the wrong places.

With the US and Vermont unemployment hovering around 3%, there have been a rash of efforts to improve salaries, increase vacation time, and offer flexible work options; often with the intention of attracting or retaining workers. Yet very few of these initiatives address employees' core needs as outlined in the aforementioned Q12 Assessment. These include:

  • Clarifying expectations and ensuring resources are available to achieve those expectations,

  • Opportunities to identify and utilize what each individual does best,

  • Initiatives or programs that demonstrate an active interest in caring for, developing, and recognizing employees, and,

  • Providing opportunities for employees to connect with and contribute to their teams' and organizational mission(s).

So before you conduct your next employee satisfaction survey, consider this...


Do you want to find out how people are enjoying what you provide, or do you want to know how willing they are to contribute to your success?


Both are valuable, but only one will push your organization forward.


Photo by Arlington Research on Unsplash

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