Engaged, but Not Always Satisfied

By Nancy M. Davis Jun 29, 2010
Benjamin Schneider, senior research fellow at Valtera Corp.Photo by Steven Purcell.

SAN DIEGO—Knowing the difference between employee satisfaction and employee engagement—and acting on those differences—can make a profound impact on customer satisfaction scores, quality ratings and financial results for employers, said Benjamin Schneider, senior research fellow at Valtera Corp. in La Jolla, Calif.

Schneider, recipient of the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) 2009 Michael R. Losey Human Resource Research Award, defines engagement in terms of employees’ feelings and behavior. Engaged employees might report feeling focused and intensely involved in the work they do. They are enthusiastic and have a sense of urgency. Schneider defines engaged behavior as persistent, proactive and adaptive in ways that expand the job roles as necessary. Engaged employees go beyond job descriptions in, for example, service delivery or innovation.

Schneider, speaking before members of SHRM’s Special Expertise Panels on June 27, 2010 in conjunction with SHRM’s Annual Conference, defined what engagement is not: “It’s not getting more work out of people for less pay. We’re not talking about more work; it’s the approach to work.

“Employee engagement is also not job satisfaction,” he continued. “Satisfied people feel pleasant, content, satiated and gratified,” whereas engaged employees feel focused with a sense of urgency and concentrate on how they approach what they do.

High satisfaction and engagement scores on employee surveys yield positive but different outcomes for employers, he said. For example, “We know companies where higher levels of satisfaction result in lower absenteeism, lower turnover and lower substance abuse.”

Schneider reported on the results of three studies in client companies where researchers identified the drivers of engagement and satisfaction.

“Valtera research indicates that while there is some overlap in the drivers of engagement and satisfaction, there are also key differences in the components that determine each,” he reported. Drivers of satisfaction and engagement: trust, fairness and meaningful work.

Compiling engagement survey results in the form of an engagement index, the researchers then created average engagement scores for companies with the highest and lowest levels of engagement and compared those scores to the same companies’ scores on customer satisfaction surveys, on quality ratings and for financial performance. The researchers found positive relationships between companies’ high engagement scores and high scores on the above three measures.

Schneider emphasized that when employees report high levels of trust and fair treatment from their employers on engagement surveys, such environments result in positive outcomes for engagement and for corporate results.

Design jobs to help employees invest in themselves and their sense of worth, he said. “When we have a job with certain characteristics, who we are and the work we do become more symbiotic. I know, for example, being engaged is taking a risk in going beyond the job description. … We think that you have to create a foundation of fair treatment over time so employees can trust that they can take this risk.”

Jobs designed for engagement are those that:

  • Capture the minds and hearts of workers.
  • Demand the full use of important skills and abilities.
  • Are a challenge.
  • Provide meaningfulness.
  • Present specific, difficult goals with feedback.
  • Provide for personal growth and development.
  • Promote meaningful work and cooperation to get work done.
  • Are designed to promote efficiency.

Treating people fairly requires:

  • Distributing rewards, pay promotion and bonuses.
  • Demonstrating respect and warmth through interpersonal relationships.
  • Involving people in decision-making.
  • Offering opportunities to question decisions.
Nancy Davis is editor of HR Magazine.

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