What does it look like when engagement replaces satisfaction? Over the years I have had the opportunity to work with volunteers who do work in developing countries. These volunteers—typically university students—dedicate up to three months each summer in leaving their comfortable, US-based surroundings to work in locations where poverty is the norm. Their work may include bringing water to a small mountain village, working to prevent river blindness, teaching single mothers about nutrition, building latrines, or any number of other welfare and educational projects.
These volunteers often live in unfamiliar conditions where, while not typically dangerous, they experience many of the hardships found in some parts of the world. This may include limited access to clean water, less-than-ideal nutrition, dirty conditions, and crowded living spaces (during my last visit to Peru we had 19 young people squeezed into two small rooms on the upper floor of a small, concrete home). These conditions were also similar to what I experienced in previous stays in Guatemala and El Salvador, yet these young people choose to do what they did.
Here we have 200+ students, all leaving the conveniences of life and family for a three-month period in order to work in conditions most of them have only seen on their 55-inch big-screen televisions or on their iPads. And what’s really amazing… they pay to do this! Each student is required to pay his/her own expenses, as well as part of the fees to support the projects in which they participate.
Let’s put this in perspective. Suppose I go to your employees and say, “Team (because when we call them “team” it makes them feel better about what I’m about to ask of them), we’re going to change working conditions a bit. First of all, you will pay me, rather than me paying you (I won’t break it to you yet that you’re going to put in some hard work and live in some pretty harsh conditions).”
Obviously, that ain’t gonna’ fly. Perhaps a bit of a stretch to emphasize a point, but let’s consider the intent. What makes 200 students willing to do what they do in this scenario? I make it a point to continually ask that question of each of the volunteers, who inevitably respond with variations on a central theme: they are willing to temporarily overlook the “satisfaction elements” because they have chosen to be engaged in what they do. They find meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection (M-A-G-I-C) in what they do.
Employee Engagement Differs from Satisfaction
Let’s take a look at why this is the case, by examining how employee engagement differs from satisfaction. Certain elements must be present in order for me to be satisfied in my work. These elements may include safety, basic levels of respect, tools to do the work, training, and even appropriate compensation. However, these volunteers are willing to overlook these basic satisfaction elements for a temporary period (in this case, three months of the year) because the elements of engagement (ENGAGEMENT MAGIC) play a greater role for them than does the need for those things we generally consider factors that satisfy us in our work.
Are they satisfied? Yes. But not because what we consider “the basics” are in place. They’re satisfied because they are engaged.
Satisfaction is a transactional, quid-pro-quo (you give me x and, in return, I give you y) relationship, with some strings attached. With satisfaction, when I do something it’s because I know that I will receive something in exchange that makes my effort worth what I put into it. Satisfaction elements are generally the “price of admission.” We must have the tools we need to succeed. Our compensation must be fair, and we must be treated with dignity and respect. However, many companies stop there, assuming their employees will be engaged if each of these elements is in place. Further, the more I, as an employer, provide these for you (“let’s bring in a foosball table and hot chocolate machine for every floor!”), the more you’ll be satisfied. Right? Not quite.
Engagement differs from satisfaction in that engagement involves the heart, hands, and mind of the employee (or volunteer), rather than the transactional relationship brought about by satisfaction factors.
Engagement occurs when the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC elements of engagement—meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection—are in place. The volunteers found ENGAGEMENT MAGIC® in what they did.
In the case of these students, each continually cited meaning (when the work has greater purpose beyond the task itself) and impact (when I can see the positive outcomes of my efforts) as primary reasons why they were involved in this work.
Not a single volunteer mentioned, “It pays well,” or “I like the foosball break room.” Obviously, not many of these satisfaction factors were present in their day-to-day working conditions. Yet, many businesses today ignore engagement factors, and focus solely on satisfaction. However, satisfaction factors do not bring hearts, hands, and minds into the game.
While satisfaction is important, it’s transactional, and reaches a point of diminishing returns. Foosball tables and free drinks only go so far—and we must continue to outdo what we’ve already done. Yet, as these volunteers can attest, MAGIC happens when we include hearts, hands, and minds.
These young volunteers were able to accomplish some pretty amazing things—and it was because they chose to do so. What are your employees choosing?
Many definitions are thrown around today to describe employee engagement. Some of these definitions include references or similarities to other common organizational behavior terms, to the point where “engagement” has become a catchphrase that includes all the positive feelings and qualities that we want in employees. If it’s a positive behavior, we lump it into the “engagement” category. However, this creates a good deal of confusion as many try to define engagement for their particular organization.
Download Employee Engagement Survey Sample
So, let’s take a different approach. Let’s address what employee engagement is not first:
Employee Engagement is not Satisfaction. Satisfied employees are content with their pay, working environment, and the job they do. Satisfaction must be in place for employees to be engaged (it’s the “price of admission”) but it does not cause an employee to be passionate about her job, nor does it cause an employee to throw his heart, hands, and mind into his work.
Employee Engagement is not Happiness. Employees can be happy at work but not necessarily engaged in their work. A fun working environment can contribute to engagement, but it may only make your employees happy without contributing to engagement. We’ve seen plenty of employees who are happy with their jobs (think “Dude, it’s so easy . . . I don’t have to do anything but sit all day and watch YouTube”), but are not engaged in their work.
Employee Engagement is not Motivation. Motivation is a component or result of engagement in one’s work. Engaged employees feel motivated to do their best because the conditions for engagement have been met. Additionally, motivation does not always equate to action (I’m motivated to diet, but that sure doesn’t mean I’m going to).
Employee Engagement is not Empowerment. Autonomy or empowerment is a component of engagement, but some mistake being empowered with being left alone. The opposite of this, of course, is to be powerless and micromanaged. Empowerment also often ignores the fact that engagement is a choice. While I may be empowered, once again, I may not act.
So what is engagement? Let’s keep it simple: employee engagement is a state and a behavior that makes employees feel passionate about their work, and give their hearts, hands, and minds to that work; it leads to employees caring more and contributing more to their work and their companies; it is driven by experiencing meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection in one’s job.
Any other terms you would add to the list? How would you describe employee engagement?
I have often been guilty of using the phrase, “There’s no such thing as a happy non-performer” when discussing the idea that basic human nature is to be disappointed when performing poorly. In all honesty, it was, at times, my way of justifying (to myself and others) letting an employee go or reprimanding for poor performance. In addition to the performance component, I was telling myself that the employee couldn’t have been happy because he was an underperformer—my way of justifying the psychological component.
I still believe the above—for the most part. However, my thoughts have shifted. I still believe that most underperformers are unhappy. Aren’t we generally happiest when we feel that we are performing well? Still, that doesn’t explain the fact that there are many employees who are “getting by” at work, just “putting in their time,” yet they seem to be perfectly content. We’ve all seen it. Perhaps we’ve been there. I then discovered the notion of employee engagement, and shifted my adage to “There’s no such thing as an engaged non-performer.”
Allow me to explain. Engagement is not simply a state of being—a psychological condition. Happiness, on the other hand, is just that—a feeling. Engagement requires action. It’s both psychological and behavioral. Think of it this way: psychological = “feel,” while behavioral = “do.” Engagement requires that I both feel and do. I can’t simply feel engaged; that’s only part of the equation. This psychological state is merely a feeling until I act upon it. That’s engagement.
Engagement requires that I both feel and do—the psychological and the behavioral. Happy employees, or, for that matter, “satisfied” employees do little good for an organization. That’s why so many of us have hang-ups about whether employee satisfaction actually translates to the bottom line. The truth? It doesn’t! Don’t waste your money. It’s great to have happy and satisfied employees (and we have an important moral responsibility there), but that doesn’t keep the widget line running—at least not at optimal capacity. It’s only when what the employee feels is translated into action that the bottom line gets a boost. Organizations today waste an absurd amount of money on employee satisfaction, as well as keeping employees happy. It’s a noble effort, and one that absolutely needs to continue, but still doesn’t address the “do” component.
Did those new coffee machines really increase productivity, or just make employees happy until they realize they don’t have the Smoothie Man come in every Friday, like the company down the road? Satisfaction is not engagement. Satisfaction and happiness are the “price of admission.” It lets us play the game, but it’s not what results in the win. Let’s don’t confuse the two.
So, happy non-performers? Sure, it’s possible. Engaged non-performers? The very definition of engagement tells us this isn’t possible.
Organizations generally start off with the question: “How do we motivate them to (insert your latest change initiative here)? This implies that motivation is something done TO your employees—something inflicted upon them.
Bonuses come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, flavors, and amounts. Some companies offer regular performance bonuses, including the elusive on-the-spot bonus when the big boss walks by; other companies have a structured, period-based bonus program: did we hit our targets for Q1? Excellent—everyone benefits; still other companies dole out bonuses once the holidays arrive (perhaps to meet perceived pressures of expectation).
That’s great and all, but not all of these bonuses engage—and those that do create quickly fleeting levels of engagement. What gives?
Our conversation needs to go back to the discussion of the differences between satisfaction and engagement—the former being comprised of elements like compensation (both regular and bonus); the latter, of elements that directly impact levels of meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection.
According to Lalin Anik and Jordi Quoidbach, “Individual rewards . . . have been shown to be detrimental to employee morale and productivity.” Roughly translated, that means if my boss decides to give me a bonus because I’ve worked hard, he should expect my performance to decrease. I’m not sure I agree with that premise (if I did, I’m not sure I would want my boss to know).
Anik and Quoidbach proceed to promote a different kind of bonus program: “provide [employees] the same bonuses with one caveat: they must be spent on prosocial actions towards charities and coworkers.” That’s a nice thought and all, but subjecting all bonuses to said caveat is a recipe for disaster. Enter Frederick Herzberg.
Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory introduces a set of hygiene factors like job security, compensation (read: bonuses), working conditions, and status, none of which provide positive long-term satisfaction, though the absence of any yields dissatisfaction. By converting the company’s once-selfish bonus program into a prosocial campaign, you can bet employees will passively rebel. Removing a familiar bonus program (turned hygiene factor) will sharply increase levels of employee dissatisfaction. Since satisfaction and its contributing factors comprise the necessary foundation for employee engagement, matters will only get worse.
Instead of doing away with all individualized bonuses, consider creating a hybrid program: individual performance-based bonuses and prosocial initiatives. Anik and Quoidbach’s research quantifies the ROI of prosocial bonus programs: “on sales teams, for every $10 spent prosocially, the firm gained $52.” At DecisionWise we recently held a prosocial on-the-spot bonus program called Amazing Acclaims. Each week, we each received five bonus tokens, which we were encouraged to give to colleagues when we caught them doing great things.
Though I can’t say Amazing Acclaims or corporate giving had a 500-percent ROI impact on revenue, they certainly did improve levels of engagement, which gets us back to where we started this conversation.
Though traditional bonuses don’t necessarily engage, they do create a foundation upon which engagement can flourish. Additionally, they serve as positive recognition for joint contribution to success.
What kind of bonus programs does your company offer? What are some other ways companies can make bonuses more engaging? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
An interesting question, and one that is sure to generate multiple opinions. We repeatedly hear that money can’t buy happiness. In his recent article Does Money Make You Happier?, Dr. Hal Hershfield examines the effects of money on happiness. His article concludes that money affects overall well-being. Therefore, Hershfield explains that richer countries don’t have “happier” citizens; they have citizens who are more satisfied with their lives. We find the same relationship between happiness and satisfaction when looking at employee engagement survey results.
Satisfaction and Engagement
In a previous blog “Are Your Employees Engaged or Just Satisfied?,” we discussed how compensation initiates a transactional relationship based on satisfaction. In the blog, Dr. Maylett, explains that employers provide compensation to employees who, in return, perform their job duties. It’s a contractual, transactional relationship. Competitive compensation is expected by employees. Once pay rates fall below competitive levels, the contract is no longer being fulfilled, and employees become dissatisfied and either underperform or seek new employment—or both. Download: Employee Satisfaction Survey
Happiness and Employee Engagement
So, what about happiness? We find that happiness is more closely related to employee engagement. Obviously money matters (try telling your employees, “Oh, by the way, we won’t be paying you in April”), but not in the way that many people assume. Too often HR and Management teams, anxious to boost employee survey scores or myriad other factors, focus on compensation components as a way to engage their employees. Remember, satisfied employees aren’t always engaged or happy employees. In fact, they may not even be productive employees. So, let’s take a look at what contributes to happiness and engagement.
As humans, we long for social interaction and friendships (even the raging introverts like me). By having friendships in the workplace, we experience higher levels of social connection—one of the five essential elements of employee engagement. Knowing and getting along with the people we work with makes us excited to go to work, because we’ll be able to work with and be around those we have brought into our circle. Friendships—or, at the very least, a sense of connection with coworkers—lead to employee engagement.
Another factor that contributes to happiness and engagement is feeling a sense of meaning. If we find meaning in the activities we preform, we will become more engaged. This rule is best illustrated by an anecdotal example:
In high school I had a job working at Papa Murphy’s Take ‘n’ Bake Pizza. The job didn’t pay well, but I was still engaged. The company espouses a zealous prioritization of exemplary customer service and complete customer satisfaction. I noticed how the company made customer service a priority above all other things, which aligned with my personal values. Since I believed customers anywhere should receive great service, I was happy to work for a company that shared that belief. I found a sense of meaning in my job by contributing to the top priority of the company while fulfilling one of my personal values.
Notice how neither of the two elements above (connection and meaning) have anything to do with compensation! Both elements are essential when trying to achieve—or augment—levels of employee engagement. Yet, we often hear of a manager sitting down in the HR Manager’s office, saying, “We have to give her an increase or she’ll walk.” While this may be the case at times, we typically find that compensation is merely an easy-out for a more complex issue. Money can only do so much.
Next time your organization rolls out an employee engagement survey, be careful when you examine the results. Take it for what it is. Questions that deal with levels of benefits and compensation are generally rated poorly by employee respondents. It’s always been the case, and likely always will be. None of us is paid what we (think we) are worth. Throwing more money at employees isn’t the first place to start when trying to improve employee engagement. You may get satisfied employees, but satisfaction won’t translate into engagement or happiness.
When Fortune names its “100 Best Companies to Work for,” it’s always an exciting time. I particularly enjoy comparing this year’s list to those of prior years (maybe my life isn’t as exciting as it should be if comparing lists is a highlight, but I digress). We almost expect some companies to be on the top of the list, like Google. Other companies surprise us by not even placing in the top 100, like Apple. Still other companies excite us as they climb the ranks year after year, like our friends at CHG Healthcare Services, ranking third this year.
What makes these companies so special? Why are college graduates dying to be recruited by these firms? After taking a look at the Fortune 100 list, I found five practices that set these companies apart from the rest.
Fitness promotion—Google and CHG set the tone for corporate wellness by offering fully equipped fitness facilities and subsidized gym memberships to their employees. Healthy employees are happy employees, right? Part of me wonders if Google hires any employees who don’t enjoy exercise, or if that’s a characteristic intentionally weeded out in the selection process.
Telecommuting—Each of the top five companies offers telecommuting as an option to its employees. Telework Research Network, a telecommuting resource site, claims 72 percent of employees say flexible work arrangements would cause them to choose one job over another. “Even half-time telecommuting can save a company $10,000 per employee per year,” says Telework co-founder Kate Lister. As someone who worked from a snow-buried house in rural Oregon for a couple of weeks in December (when we had power, that is), I can confirm the enjoyment telecommuting can provide—there’s nothing quite like being able to work in your sweats.
Paid sabbaticals—Paying for employee sabbaticals (i.e., extended periods of off-time) offers an opportunity for employees to recharge and to cultivate concepts, ideas, and personal mantras that can convert to added value in the workplace upon their (potentially begrudging) return to the office. Boston Consulting Group even goes so far as to vigilantly manage its employees’ workweeks, offering sabbaticals or short respites at the best possible moment.
Creative bonuses—Have you ever considered offering every employee in your company a $100,000 check if the company meets a lofty 5-year goal? Hilcorp Energy Company did, which is why its employees are anxiously awaiting the coming of 2015. Granted, not many companies can offer similar perks, but all companies can offer an incentive program that ties employees to the organization’s objectives and overall goal.
Support for diversity—An overwhelming majority of these Best Companies offer healthcare benefits for all of their employees’ spouses and partners. In today’s society, supporting diversity can make or break a company’s reputation. (Remember what happened to Chick-fil-A?)
Granted, these five elements, for most organizations, may fall under the “nice-to-have” column. Similarly, they do not encompass some of the areas most critical to employee engagement, such as autonomy, growth, etc. However, the Fortune 100 Best Companies list provides some interesting insights into common best-practice threads in some of these great organizations.
I would be willing to bet that I have left some important elements off of the list above, which are common to these “best” companies. So, what do you feel makes a company a Best Company to Work For? Do you believe these companies are engaging their employees, or are they just spoiling them with satisfaction-based perks? Throw your two cents in the comments.
As we’ve researched trends in employee engagement, we consistently find dissonance in levels of engagement between a person who views his job as—well, a job—and people who have turned their “jobs” into careers or callings. Yale psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski, for example, has published research on how the mental conceptions we all have about our jobs affect our performance and our happiness. Her studies find that different people can see their employment as any of the three aforementioned types (jobs, careers, or callings), regardless of the position they hold (and even if they all hold the same position).
In one portion of her studies, Wrzesniewski found that among 24 administrative assistants (all of whom had nearly identical conditions of employment) perceptions of job, career, and calling were represented in almost equal thirds. Intrigued by this observation, we’ve sought to differentiate between people who see their work as a job, as a career, and as a calling. Here’s what we’ve been able to surmise:
Job—People who have jobs and see them as nothing more than jobs are generally satisfied. (Remember what we said about employee satisfaction?) These individuals go to work, fulfill their responsibilities, and anticipate the reward of a paycheck. Rarely, if ever, do they choose to connect their job description to the success of the company or to the betterment of society or self. These individuals, sadly, are not engaged.
Career—People who see their jobs as careers are focused on self-improvement, advancement, and contributing to the overall success of the company. Though they may exhibit some levels of engagement, these individuals have not chosen to realize their full potential and therefore do not achieve the levels of success they are capable of.
Calling—People who feel a connection between their personal values and their work generally see their employment as a calling. They embrace company goals, values, and objectives, committing themselves to success because they see the bigger picture. These individuals have made the choice to leverage their talents as they contribute to the success of their company; they witness their actions contributing to a greater good.
Notice the recurring theme in each of these mindsets (especially the last one): we all have an employee engagement choice to make about how we view our employment. We can all become the remarkable people who view “jobs” as callings. When we choose to have this mindset, we become more productive assets of human capital to our companies and we develop greater feelings of engagement and personal satisfaction in our work.
This research leads us to one question, though: whose responsibility is it to establish the calling mindset in an organization? Are employers responsible for cultivating such a mindset as part of the company culture, or are employees more valuable when they choose to individually develop this paradigm? Related Post: Motivate me. I dare you.