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Sorry, Employee Satisfaction is Nothing to Get Excited About


You’re in a restaurant. You’ve ordered your favorite meal. The server comes to the table and sets a plate in front of you. On it? One measly pill. All of the nutrition of the roast chicken and veg you’d ordered in one swallow! It’ll satisfy your body. And absolutely nothing more.

“Satisfaction” is the meal substitution of work life. That is, you can choose one of those “complete meal in a bottle” nutrition drinks three times a day and stay alive just fine. Yet how many people live like that? For most of us, flavor matters. From eye appeal (“half the meal,” as they say in the restaurant business) to contrasts in texture to smart seasoning — a lot goes into a meal that does more than satisfy.

When did satisfaction become a goal for businesses? It’s competence and nothing more. A sludgy meal in a bottle instead of a vibrant paella. But more businesses than not are measuring employee satisfaction as if that could tell them something valuable.

What satisfaction says

If you’re measuring satisfaction, you’re not alone. Our 2020 Employee Engagement Trends Report found that 52.3% of companies who conduct surveys are measuring employee satisfaction. What they’re learning, then, is whether employees consider their pay fair, their benefits acceptable, the working conditions comfortable, their jobs reasonably secure and at-work relationships tolerable.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement. And not the factors that inspire engagement.

Years ago, psychologist Frederick Herzberg broke down the elements of satisfaction and engagement. Factors like those above, which satisfy basic needs, are hygiene factors, whereas the elements that lead to engagement — stuff like a sense of achievement and learning opportunities — are motivational factors.

Between hygiene factors and motivational factors lies a gulf of so-so performance and ho-hum attitudes. If you’re measuring only satisfaction, you’re missing a lot of opportunities for growth and success. You’re drinking a meal from a bottle instead of experiencing the artistry of great cooking.

The risks of satisfaction

Satisfaction provides a false sense of security. Disengagement can easily hide while you hunt satisfaction. Which makes satisfaction incredibly costly. Our recent research showed that only about 15% of companies measure employee engagement, which means the overwhelming majority are waiting around for attrition to find answers that they probably aren’t doing anything with.

The costs of replacing employees add up fast, and you might be surprised to learn that almost two-thirds of your employees are looking for better opportunities as you read this. Throw in the fact that engaged employees are 44% more productive than their satisfied counterparts — and more likely to stick around — and the benefits of investing in employee engagement clear up fast.

Working toward engagement

While so many employers hang their hats on satisfaction, real opportunity to differentiate your organization lies in learning how to foster engagement. If you can harness input from current employees, you’re just a few steps from creating the kind of work environment where people do their best work.

The specifics of pursuing this information depend on the details of your company, but there’s a general formula for fostering engagement:

1. Ask smart questions.
2. Analyze the data and take action.
3. Make sure you communicate those actions.
4. Repeat.

When executed thoughtfully, these four steps drive productivity, reduce turnover, and spur profitability.

Find out more by downloading our Employee Engagement Trends 2020 Report, or reach out to ask a question.

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