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Employee Engagement vs. Employee Satisfaction: Is There a Difference?

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An engaged employee is a satisfied employee—right? Well, not necessarily. Though the terms employee engagement and employee satisfaction are sometimes used interchangeably, the truth is that they have very different meanings.

Defining Employee Engagement

Some quick definitions might be helpful. First, there’s employee engagement. This term describes employees who are committed to helping the business achieve its goals. Those employees who have a high level of engagement will come to work each day ready to do their best work—even going above and beyond the call of duty to help achieve team objectives.

Defining Employee Satisfaction

Employee satisfaction looks a bit different. Employees who are satisfied like coming to work each day, and are generally happy with what they do—but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are good at it. Certainly, there can be a lot of overlap—but an employee who arrives to work late each day, without being penalized, and spends half the day playing games on his phone might be perfectly satisfied, yet clearly not engaged.

Working with the Right Metrics

That last example might be just a little bit extreme, but the point is simply this: It’s possible to have team members who are by no means unhappy with their workplace existence, and whose contributions to your team are pretty minimal. For selfish reasons, these employees are happy—but they do nothing to boost those around them, nor to advance your broader business goals.

There’s a clear implication: Your company may put a lot of effort into making employees happy. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. Maintaining high morale is crucial.

Yet, if you believe happy employees are always good employees, you may be missing some key issues with your work force—specifically, employees who are coasting rather than truly engaging.

Beyond Employee Satisfaction

The key difference is this: Employees who are merely satisfied will never go above and beyond for you. The question is, how can you take those merely satisfied employees and move them toward true engagement?

There are many components to this, but one of the big ones is mission. Getting your employees to see that they are part of something bigger—to identify the business’ goals, and their own role in achieving those goals—is key.

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