Guess What…Employee Satisfaction Don't Mean Diddly

missed targetThe Street had an interesting blog post the beginning of this month re: the efficacy of HR’s focus on “Employee Satisfaction”.  Known in HR circles now as “Employee Engagement” (which has unfortunately become just a fluffed up version of Employee Satisfaction in many organizations), the argument is that any commitment to improving an employee’s sense of satisfaction has short lived benefits.  Organizational responses to satisfaction and engagement measures are often fleeting, reactionary, and fail to go deep enough in promoting individual success.  Success, in this argument, is what it’s all about… 

This is an interesting tweak on the traditional approach – slight, but important.  In all the employee engagement surveys I’ve conducted, including those I’ve authored, I’ve yet to encounter one that directly addresses an employee’s sense of success.  Rather, they focus on surfacing those things – if done better by the organization – that will heighten the employees’ intent to stay or their willingness to put forth discretionary effort.  They may be similar; some times they may even be the same.  However, what one employee deems “success” may have absolutely nothing to do with their intent to stay with the organization.  And their intent to stay with the organization may have absolutely nothing to do with their intent to put forth discretionary effort.  And their intent to put forth discretionary effort doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with performance – the former is quantitative while the later is qualitative.  Promoting success, though, arguably accomplishes all three.

So what do we do about it?  Well, the blog has some good recommendations so take a look.  My quick take, though, is to stop worrying about what makes your people “happy” or “satisfied” and start focusing on how your people define “success.”  Then all you have to do is figure out how to help them succeed ;-)   Well, from one mountain to the next…but, it’s at least a new way to look at what is maybe becoming a tried, tested, and soon to be tired approach.

2 Responses to Guess What…Employee Satisfaction Don't Mean Diddly
  1. Paul Hebert
    October 19, 2009 | 9:58 am

    I do agree with where you ended up on this – focus on their needs and align that with the business needs – that is how engagement gets started.

    However, engagement is not a “fluffed up version of satisfaction” – true engagement looks different and is different. Satisfaction = sated – meaning I don’t need or want any more. Engagement means constantly looking for ways to do something better so I can feel good and successful and those that “sponsor” me can feel better and more successful.

    While there may be a ton of folks who equate satisfaction with engagement – they are doing it wrong and won’t get the results they want. Similar to defining loyalty by repeat purchase or even net promoter score. Neither really tie to the loyalty of a brand or company.

  2. Charlie Judy
    October 20, 2009 | 1:19 pm

    Thanks for the FIRST official comment on HR Fishbowl, Paul. I’m honored. Good insights! “True Engagement” seems to be the operative term here. Thx

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