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Are Your Employees Passengers or Drivers?


Written by: Jennifer Specter

The Difference between Employee Satisfaction and Employee Engagement Surveys

Though they may sound similar, there is a difference between employee satisfaction and employee engagement surveys. An employee engagement survey is the better tool to gauge the involvement of employees in your firm and can go a long way in turning passengers (those employees who are satisfied with their job but not engaged) into drivers (those employees who are truly engaged)..  The drivers in your firm could become future leaders and potential succession candidates.  Daniel Pink’s book, Drive challenges the belief that employees are motivated by just their paycheck and their title. What really drives people, Pink professes, are the intangibles, the intrinsic satisfaction that we get from what we do (Warren Buffet calls it the ‘Inward Scorecard’).  With increased competition to recruit and retain top talent, the idea of employee engagement has taken center stage as a way to measure an employee’s willingness to ‘go the extra mile’ for the company by expending discretionary time and talent.

Can a firm have satisfied employees who are not engaged and vice versa? The reality is that an engaged employee is also probably a satisfied employee; few people are willing to go the extra mile for their employer unless they are happy in their jobs. However, it is certainly possible to have a satisfied employee who is not engaged — someone who shows up to work and goes through the motions, collects their paycheck, but does not demonstrate a lot of initiative or put in any extra effort to further the success of the firm. That’s why focusing on employee satisfaction without addressing employee engagement is unlikely to foster the kind of performance that drives firm results.

A word of caution regardless of which type of survey you may be inclined to use with your employees, the very fact that you are soliciting input will set an expectation that you are going to make changes or act upon the data.  Before launching a survey make sure you are committed to do something with the information you obtain. Otherwise, your best option would be to not do a survey at all.

Employee satisfaction surveys measure the employee’s level of “happiness” with their current job. These surveys typically include a range of questions regarding satisfaction with work and working conditions; such as pay and reward structures, how employees are managed, working conditions, etc.  They are really measuring an individual’s perceptions of these parameters compared to their own expectations.

Employee engagement surveys measure the employee’s emotional commitment to the firm and the amount of discretionary effort an employee expends on behalf of the firm.

A few years ago The Conference Board published “Employee Engagement, A Review of Current Research and Its Implications”. According to this report, twelve major studies on employee engagement had been published over the prior years by top research firms such as Gallup, Towers Perrin, Blessing White, the Corporate Leadership Council and others. Most of these engagement surveys agreed on these key drivers regarding employee engagement:

  • Trust and integrity – How well do managers communicate and ‘walk the talk’?
  • Nature of the job – Is it mentally stimulating day-to-day?
  • Line of sight between employee performance and company performance – Does the employee understand how their work contributes to the firm’s performance?
  • Career growth opportunities – Are there future opportunities for growth?
  • Pride about the company – How much self-esteem does the employee feel by being associated with their company?
  • Coworkers/team members – How much do they feel about the people they work with every day?
  • Employee development – Is the company making an effort to develop the employee’s skills?
  • Relationship with one’s manager – Does the employee value his or her relationship with his or her manager?

In order to continue to be competitive, firms can no longer be satisfied with satisfied employees. Today’s organizations enjoying the greatest success are those that have excelled at getting their people engaged as well as aligned with their firm goals. These studies also show that, on average, engaged employees outperform their non-engaged counterparts by upwards of 25%!  What can that extra productivity do to your bottom line?

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