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Don’t Confuse Employee Satisfaction with Employee Engagement

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I advise CEOs who are about to use an engagement assessment tool to be careful about measuring “satisfaction”. Why? Because you can easily misread great satisfaction scores — thinking you are doing all the right things. You could get high satisfaction scores, for example, because employees are overpaid and not held accountable. That does not mean you have a high performance culture that is sustainable and that is maximizing business value. I typically position employee satisfaction as an outcome of a high performance culture, not a leading indicator.

With respect to using tools to “measure” engagement, I would not use a tool that excludes questions related to finding meaning in the work, a trusted colleague at work, or the quality of the employee’s relationship with their “boss.” These are key concepts to understanding what drives an employee’s experience when they come to work. Whether relying on social baseline theory or attachment theory, nothing is more powerful, more meaningful, to enabling engagement than the quality of the relationships and affiliations we have at work. Gallup Press published a wonderful book in 2006 titled Vital Friends that is a good read on the impact of trusted work connections.

I understand about the “targets of engagement” and the literature is full of insight into all the touch points where engagement can be nurtured or devastated.  We need to track as many of those points as possible in order to make more informed decisions on when and where to act. One factor about human behavior overshadows this consideration, namely the overwhelming strength of the negative experience. There is no parity between good experiences and bad ones; the negative experiences have a deeper and longer lasting impact. In other words, being engaged with their co-workers does not balance out their lack of engagement with their boss. We cannot build walls between those experiences to prevent them from co-mingling.

So yes, let’s try to better understand where engagement is occurring and where it is crumbling — but then rush quickly to the engagement sink-hole and prevent further errosion. Higher levels of engagement elsewhere will be impacted, and other efforts to increase engagement will be less effective.

BEST PRACTICES TIP: Negative interactions and experiences have a longer shelf-life than the positive ones, so be sure to maximize the positive whenever possible.

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