If You’re Happy and You Know It

Employee Satisfaction starts with sleep

In 2017, the Huffington Post reported on a study from the UK of over 8,000 participants, which showed that a good night’s sleep had a greater impact on happiness than a 50% pay increase.[i]  This study illustrates something most of us intuitively know, and that has been researched for decades. Individuals (employees, in our case) must have their basic needs met before they will respond to other factors (big “thumbs-up” here from Abraham Maslow).

The challenge for companies and organizations is understanding the difference between fundamental satisfaction elements (key needs, such as sleep) and trendy employee perks that capture headlines but do little to improve overall employee productivity and satisfaction. As the UK study suggests, if the satisfaction elements are not met (you are not getting something as basic as restful sleep), a pay raise won’t compensate for that loss. The same is true with your job. On-premises dry cleaning and nap pods do not matter if your boss is a jerk, you don’t have a functioning computer, or your leadership team is comprised of three times as many men as women.

Knowing that satisfaction is foundational to a good employee experience, the tendency is for companies to rush out and ask their employees about various satisfaction elements. Yet, a poorly-drafted survey (focused too heavily on the wrong variables) will do more harm than good. Let me explain.

Are Employees Ever Satisfied?

Our DecisionWise database of employee survey responses demonstrates that if you survey a workforce, and ask them about compensation, the organization will always find that employees believe they are underpaid. In fact, our database shows that somewhere between 62% and 68% of employees (depending on the job level) believe that their compensation isn’t reflective of the work they do. Not surprisingly, this isn’t because they believe they are overpaid. Similarly, if you run an employee survey and ask about perks, employees will always ask for more perks.

Thus, companies that ask only about employee satisfaction elements unwittingly create demand where it didn’t exist previously. The survey itself imbues the workforce with the sense they aren’t getting enough. It’s like the old psychological trick, “don’t think about a white bear.” Did it work, or did you think about a white bear when you weren’t before you read that statement? The survey makes a suggestion, whether intended or not, that creates an idea in employees’ head (“I wonder if I’m getting paid enough” or “more perks would be great”) about their level of employee satisfaction. For psychology aficionados, that effect is related to “Ironic process theory,” and it has implications for employee survey design.

More Than Just Employee Satisfaction

So, rather than running a simple employee satisfaction survey (which is more like a suggestion box), our recommendation is to use instead an employee engagement survey or a well-drafted pulse survey. These types of surveys take a more holistic view, measuring satisfaction in addition to other factors. Our experience suggests that by using a broader survey, an employer can alleviate many of the problems associated with a satisfaction-only, suggestive survey. In addition, a wider employee engagement survey has the advantage of providing additional data and insights about the company.

So, if you ask my firm about an “employee satisfaction survey”, you will find that we usually recommend an employee engagement survey for the reasons cited above. We do, however, work with our clients to ensure the following types of questions are included in their employee engagement surveys.

Employee Survey Questions

We have found that these types of questions do a good job of measuring satisfaction elements without creating artificial demand for more pay, paid time off, etc.  Consider the following sample questions:

  • I (the employee) have the tools and resources I need to do my job well.
  • The amount of work I am expected to do is reasonable.
  • The level of stress in my job is manageable.
  • This organization (my company) cares about its employees.
  • My supervisor treats people with fairness and respect.

Notice how these questions measure factors that are more akin to “sleep” (those critical base elements) than questions like, “Do you like granola bars or cookies in the employee pantry?” The latter usually results in employees unanimously saying, “I hadn’t thought about that. Both!”

Also, there are additional cautions to consider. Employee satisfaction should not be measured on a sporadic or haphazard basis. Once you start asking employees to share their experiences with you, a wise organization will continue to do so regularly; at least on an annual basis. Some companies are even using pulse surveys to check-in with their employees more frequently.

Building Employee Engagement

Employee Satisfaction

Unlike employee engagement, employee satisfaction is something that is primarily controlled by the organization. While your employees will help identify gaps, ultimately it is the organization that is responsible for implementing changes when it comes to problem areas within employee satisfaction.

Thus, action planning in the context of employee satisfaction lies primarily with the organization (the top of the organization chart), and you need to be prepared to act or the only thing you will gain from the survey is a lack of trust with your employees. You will soon hear, “See, they asked us, but they don’t really care because they didn’t do anything about it.”

So far, I have only discussed measuring employee satisfaction. The more difficult challenge, however, is how to build and improve satisfaction. Stated differently, how do you motivate your employees to move beyond the basics and truly engage in their work? How do you get them to give their hearts, hands, minds, and spirit to what they do?

The answer to these questions lies in understanding that meaningful employee engagement requires moving beyond employee satisfaction and looking at higher motivating factors, such as creating meaning in one’s work, or giving employees the freedom to decide how their work should be done (autonomy). We refer to these engagement factors as “MAGIC” (Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection).

For more information on these issues and creating ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® in your organization, visit our resources page.

[i] Rachel Moss, The Huffington Post UK, September 9, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/good-nights-sleep-makes-us-happier-than-a-50-pay-rise-research-suggests_uk_59c0c9f7e4b0f22c4a8c2531.

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