The Difference Between Engagement and Satisfaction

If you’ve ever had a job where you felt the best part of the day was quitting time, you’re not alone. According to recent survey data, about 81% of U.S. employees report being satisfied with their jobs, but only about 64% consider themselves to be engaged. That may not seem so bad at first glance, but if you crunch a few numbers, you’ll see that it means millions of people are disinterested or dissatisfied at work.

Notably, these statistics delineate a clear difference between engagement and satisfaction. They are not interchangeable terms, as satisfaction is typically considered but one component of engagement. So, what exactly is the difference?

Satisfaction vs. Engagement
In simple terms, satisfaction has more to do with how we think about our jobs, while engagement has more to do with how we feel about them. That is, engagement is really an emotional connection. The discretionary effort that is synonymous with engagement (i.e., going above and beyond one’s required job duties) is the result of this deeply-felt bond.

Conversely, satisfaction connotes passive acceptance. A worker could be completely satisfied with their job; they clock in and out every day, but that’s it. They do not talk passionately about their work or put forth extra effort. Simply put, they are only there to collect a paycheck.

To illustrate, let’s say I take the bus to work every day and am completely satisfied with this mode of transportation. After all, the bus is reliable and economical. But am I engaged about commuting on the bus? Do I have an emotional connection to it? Not really. Alternatively, I could drive an expensive and powerful Italian sports car to work every day… then I would be completely engaged in my commute!

Measuring Employee Engagement
Highly engaged employees tend to outperform their disengaged colleagues by more than 20%, so, clearly, engagement trumps satisfaction when it comes to desired employee attitude. Conducting regular surveys can provide you with actionable information for improving  employee engagement and determining the results of relevant organizational initiatives.   

There’s nothing wrong with measuring satisfaction, but we recommend that it be considered but one component of a complete engagement survey in your efforts to  get the most robust and accurate understanding of employee attitudes.

Keep in mind that in order to optimize any survey results, you‘ll need to know

  1. where you are now, and
  2. how you are progressing as you go.

A good engagement survey will also give you more than just results. You’ll get a comprehensive plan for improvement. After all, data is useful only to the extent to which it is acted upon.

How do you think your company is doing in terms of employee engagement?

Comments

I tend to agree with the perspective described in this article. I think that engagement is a much broader and crucial element of any human activity. Beyond work, engaged student work harder, study more, and feel more responsible for their education and academics. Similarly, engagement in other activities plays the same role. Satisfaction, on the other can come from many different factors, some more subtle than others.

Whatever motivates an individual to do something will likely bring satisfaction once the motivating factor is received. Extrinsic motivators, such as money, prizes, or other external factors in exchange for an individual's efforts can easily bring satisfaction. However, they do very little to maintain the expected behaviors or actions unless they continue to offered, and the individual continues to value the motivating factor. On the other hand, intrinsic motivators, such autonomy, responsibility, or relatedness can produce that emotional connection with one's work.

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