The workplace can often be considered a turbulent and stressful environment. The association with deadlines, pressure and competition can lead to low motivation levels, burnout, and even health issues. Forbes reports that, of 10,000 workers surveyed, 70% of them had experienced burnout “within the last year”.
To ensure that your employees remain happy and healthy,you must ensure they are satisfied and engaged. Their work environment should aim to encourage and support their physical, mental, and emotional needs which will ultimately help increase their performance.
But which one, if either, is more important? And how should you go about balancing the two?
Firstly, we need to look at the differences, and what elements of the working world impact them.
In relation to an employee’s environment and well-being in a workplace
In relation to an employee’s work and connection
Encompasses employee’s own needs and desires at work, not just those of the company (personal expectations)
Whether the employee has an active role in trying to boost the company forward (company expectations)
Easier to measure (e.g. through surveys)
Harder to measure
It is generally accepted that an engaged employee is a satisfied one, and vice versa. But this is not always the case. There are many reasons why an employee may be one or the other, but not both.
Employers need to be aware of the differences and take the correct steps to ensure that their workers are at an equilibrium in terms of needs, wants, and desires.
What Affects Engagement?
Engagement stems from the ability to feel connected to your work, and to keep moving forward. Opportunities for career progression and promotion are excellent motivators for continued engagement.
A lack of room for growth is a significant factor when it comes to deciding whether or not an employee will stay with their company or seek work elsewhere. A recent survey found that of the 40% of employees looking to leave their jobs within the next year, 60% cited wanting to look for better career opportunities.
Attainable, rewarding development opportunities will lead to an overall greater feeling of motivation.
The last thing we want is to be disregarded when it comes to our hard work. If your employees have put in time and effort to complete a task that elevates the company, highlight that.
Discretionary effort is another way of saying “going the extra mile”. If you notice a substantial amount of discretionary effort whereby an employee actively tries to push the company forward, reward them for it.
Whether through an internal celebration or publicly showcasing the project on your company’s website or social media, a little recognition goes a long way.
Transparency in the workplace, effective communication, and a clear understanding of expectations are essential for an engaged workforce. Your verbal and written feedback or briefing notes must be as transparent as possible to avoid miscommunication or uncertainty.
Your employees must know what they are getting into before and on day one of the hiring process. They are signing up for one job in particular – don’t suddenly spring several more jobs on them that they had no forward information about or knowledge of.
Then, as they progress, make sure to chart clearly what their new responsibilities and workloads will look like.
Furthermore, schedule low-stress performance reviews if you are concerned that someone’s level of work is slipping. But make sure to go into each meeting with a positive mindset – to encourage and support, not to scold and intimidate. You never know what someone is going through in their personal life, and supportive performance management may help alleviate some stress.
Solo work can often feel like a mountain of pressure is piling up. The ability to split the load with and balance tasks amongst co-workers can make a huge difference. Having someone to work with effectively, to turn to in times of need or crisis, or to catch up and have a coffee with is bound to improve your employee engagement.
Strong teamwork also comes in the form of solid leadership. If you as a leader are inspired and inspiring, your employees will be as a result.
Finally, an enormous part of engagement is satisfaction. But what are the areas that can make for a better employee experience?
What Affects Satisfaction?
Environment and Culture
Your environment and workplace culture often lay the foundations for an employee’s satisfaction.
Your branding can impact company culture; if you are somewhere that promotes high levels of competition between employees, this can quickly lead to burnout. Alternatively, if you pride yourself on your compassion, tolerance, and diversity can significantly improve employee job satisfaction.
Do your best to improve your physical environment. Natural lighting, comfy areas to relax, and nearby areas to have a break and get some food all make for satisfied employees.
Respect stems from a healthy workplace culture and is perpetuated continuously. There are various perks that promoting a respectful workplace can offer, such as:
- Building confidence
- Reduced stress
- Better teamwork and collaborative abilities
- Decreases the risk of bullying or disagreements
Make your employees feel respected and valued. Listen to their insight, don’t belittle or patronize their abilities, and make sure you give them autonomy. This will help boost an employee’s level of self actualization (the top of Maslow’s hierarchy), which will allow them to be more productive and engaged as they feel they are making a difference.
In a study conducted by Professor Christine Porath of Georgetown University, 66% of the 14,000 employees asked said that “their performance declines when they suffer a lack of respect”.
This is also impacted by respect between colleagues. TINYpulse found that 26% of workers are “more likely” to quit their jobs due to low levels of respect between workers. And, in 2021, research found that 57% of employees who quit their jobs did so due to feeling disrespected. It’s clear that the key to employee retention is largely through respect.
We wouldn’t have to worry about our finances in an ideal world. However, with the elevated cost of living and frequent inflation, take the initiative to look after your employee’s finances. While only 20% of our Most Loved Workplaces research respondents cited compensation as necessary for motivation, it still plays a part in the equation. Providing help with financial planning or retirement planning is an important aspect of caring for the long term growth of employees.
Life has a tricky habit of getting in the way when we least expect it. Being flexible as an employer will make the lives of your employees easier and boost their satisfaction. Examples of flexibility in the workplace include:
- Work-from-home or hybrid work schemes
- Good work/life balance
- Flexible working hours
- Job-sharing and part-time hours
Maternity and paternity leave also falls under the category of flexibility. Knowing that you, as an employee, will be supported during one of the most vulnerable points of your life without fearing for your job will make a huge difference.
On the topic of fearing for your job, don’t leave your employees wondering if each day will be their last. That’s one way to tank satisfaction levels.
Job security means that you won’t need to worry about being dismissed unduly (or otherwise) if something happens to you. Even events outside your control, such as the increase in technology and globalization, can threaten job security. It is your job as an employer to make your workforce feel supported and secure.
So How Do You Manage Each?
As previously mentioned, it is easier to measure satisfaction than engagement. Employee satisfaction surveys are readily available and provide helpful insight into the overall attitude within your workplace.
Employee engagement surveys, however, are considered to be less reliable. The process also takes a lot longer, as you would have to study metrics and trends in engagement levels over a more extended period to see any noticeable increase or decrease (unless something dramatically changed).
The levels work together and interchangeably depending on the needs of the company and the employee. This model emphasizes the key areas employers need to focus on to achieve maximum engagement. However, Gallup notes that this diagram does not depict “phases” that an employer needs to “finish” before moving on.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that, in 2021, 6% of U.S. workers graded their HR department with an F. The average grade across the country was C+, which differed from how HR professionals ranked themselves, averaging at a B, with only 1% of HR departments earning an F. There is an element of disconnect within the workforce that requires addressing.
The best thing is when your employees are satisfied and engaged, your customer satisfaction will likely increase as well. An increase in employee performance will lead to better business outcomes and higher profitability, as your workers will feel more connected to your company, its brand, and its purpose.
If you are still trying to figure out how to balance employee satisfaction and engagement, a plethora of online resources is available to help. Webinars, podcasts, books, and articles are all designed to lead you in the right direction.
By following this advice and reading around the subject, you can be sure that your company will become a Most Loved Workplace®
Louis Carter is the founder and CEO of Best Practice Institute, Most Loved Workplace, and Results-Based Culture. Author of In Great Company, Change Champions Field Guide, and Best Practices in Talent Management, as well as a series of Leadership Development books. He is a trusted strategic advisor and coach to CEOs, CHROs, and leaders of mid-sized to F500 companies – enabling change and steering employer brand development together with highly effective teams, leaders, and organizations as a whole.