Are Your Staff Satisfied or Engaged?

Why is it that, over the past 20 years or so, companies have shifted from conducting satisfaction surveys to measuring and driving something called engagement?

Is it simply a rebranding exercise or something more meaningful? What is the difference between satisfaction and engagement?

Jet lag and late night munchies

About 15 years ago, whilst attending a selection seminar in America, I observed something that went right to the heart of this. It was the end of the first day and I had returned to my hotel room. Suffering a little with jet lag and late night munchies, I went out for a walk looking for some chocolate. In the distance, across a carpark was a liquor store.

As I headed towards the shop I could see, through the large plate-glass window, the shop assistant sitting at his till, his back to the window. He looked like he was busy working on something next to the till. As I entered the shop, he was so focussed on the work he was doing that he failed to notice my arrival. More importantly, I could not see any chocolate!

Excuse me, I asked, do you sell chocolate? He now looked up, smiled and politely explained that they didn’t sell chocolate but that the shop nearby should be open and I’d find some there. Before I left we had a short chat about the UK and his recent visit to London. He was particularly interested in my reason for being in the US and my background in psychology.

He explained that he was studying for a Masters in psychology and had to submit a really tough essay tomorrow morning. In fact, here it is, he said, as he revealed that it was this that I had seen him working on as I had approached the shop.

Satisfaction level

Now, I am pretty sure that, if this young man’s satisfaction level had been measured it would have been quite high; his employer pays him (unknowingly!) to work on his Masters undisturbed all night. Perhaps, he would not rate himself as completely satisfied as he is occasionally interrupted by an annoying customer looking for chocolate. But, overall, quite satisfied.

This young man’s satisfaction level bares no relationship to his productivity or his impact on customer engagement. In fact, it is likely that as his satisfaction goes up, his productivity will fall.

This is the fundamental difference between satisfaction and engagement. Engagement has strong links to (or positive correlations with) business outcomes; productivity, customer satisfaction, sickness levels etc. Satisfaction does not. Chasing satisfaction and expecting it to drive business outcomes is a lost cause. Focus on engagement and you are focusing on business outcomes. Satisfaction will follow engagement, not the other way around.