Job Satisfaction Won’t Buy You Engagement

Many managers mistakenly think that employee satisfaction can increase employee motivation. American psychologist Frederick Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene theory proposes that people are influenced by two factors: those that impact motivation and basic factors that influence job satisfaction. Motivation factors include challenging work, recognition, and responsibility. Hygiene factors consist of pay and benefits, supervision, working conditions, and job security (among others).

Hygiene factors determine a person’s level of satisfaction with their job and strongly influence employee retention. If they are not met, they lead to job dissatisfaction and cause employees to look for better opportunities elsewhere. However, the addition of more or better hygiene factors over a certain baseline will not increase job satisfaction or performance.

Motivation factors influence how a person performs on the job. When an employee is motivated, they invest more of themselves in their work and strive to do better. Merely being satisfied does not cause an employee to work harder. Additionally, an employee can be highly motivated but not satisfied with the job. They might find the work interesting and challenging, but if they worry too much about job security or think they can be paid more at a different company, they will not be satisfied.

Both factors are key components of employee engagement. Basic hygiene factors must be met to ensure employee satisfaction and retention. An employee must also feel motivated in order to perform at a high level. Hygiene factors are easier to identify and improve. Specific motivation factors differ for each employee and are most influenced by the employee’s supervisor. The manager needs to understand what drives each of his or her employees and create the circumstances for them to perform at their best.

Do you try to increase performance by focusing too much on job satisfaction?  What are some of the best motivators for your employees? Managers want to fulfill their employee’s needs so that they are content with their pay, hours, and level of flexibility. These factors influence employee satisfaction. But how does satisfaction influence employee engagement?

Consider Connie

She is an assembly line employee who is satisfied with her job. Her job means steady employment. She feels satisfied with her pay (at least it’s better than most of the jobs she could find in the area). She starts at 7:00 in the morning and gets off in time to pick up her seven-year-old from school. It meets her needs. However, for Connie, it’s just a job. She can’t say she looks forward to coming to work, and she doesn’t find herself motivated to perform her best.

Satisfaction vs. Engagement

An employee can be satisfied with a job without being engaged in the job. Employee engagement is much more than being content with pay and the ability to leave at 3 pm. That contentedness is merely job satisfaction, and though satisfaction is generally enough to retain employees, it’s not enough to ensure productivity. On the other hand, employee engagement does promote increased productivity.

Article Continues Below

An engaged employee is an employee who is deeply involved and invested in their work. The factors that drive employee engagement, however, are different than those that drive satisfaction. Engagement factors include Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection. Employee satisfaction is the foundation upon which employee engagement can grow and thrive.

Organizations with genuinely engaged employees have higher retention, productivity, customer satisfaction, innovation, and quality. They also require less training time, experience less illness, and have fewer accidents.

Employee satisfaction is the minimum entry fee that needs to be met in order for an employee to be fully engaged.

This was originally published on the DecisionWise blog.

Charles Rogel is Director of Products and Marketing at DecisionWise, a management consulting firm specializing in leadership and organization development using assessments, feedback, coaching, and training. He has an extensive background in international sales and consulting.


1 Comment on “Job Satisfaction Won’t Buy You Engagement

  1. There are two wraps against satisfaction. Both make sense conceptually, but turn out not to be supported by the data.

    The first is that satisfaction is too weak, that satisfaction is the absence of dissatisfying elements (bad light, noisy environment, poor cafeteria food, lack of basic equipment). It makes sense. But when asked on a survey where the scale runs up to something such as “extremely satisfied,” satisfaction captures the majority of variance measured by engagement questions.

    The second wrap is that personal satisfaction runs counter to performance, that a “satisfied” employee doesn’t need to work too hard or bother himself or herself too much with the company’s concerns. It’s a plausible hypothesis, but the vast majority of employees turn out to reciprocate personal satisfaction with an obligation to look out for the company. While’s it’s technically possible, as the article says, to be “satisfied with a job without being engaged,” in reality it rarely happens.

    Gallup’s Q12 metric, developed from 1993 to 1998, was heavily anchored against and judged by its relationship to satisfaction. As my coauthor Dr. Jim Harter wrote with Dr. Ted Hayes and Dr. Frank Schmidt in 2002: “The observed correlation of the mean (or sum) of Items 1–12 with the overall satisfaction item averages .77 (at the business-unit level), and the true score correlation is .91.” (The paper is “Business-Unit-Level Relationship Between Employee Satisfaction, Employee Engagement, and Business Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis” in the Journal of Applied Psychology.)

    In my subsequent research using a larger set of engagement statements, the correlations to satisfaction statements were similarly strong. So the evidence is compelling that in the mind of employees, what they call satisfaction (assuming it’s asked with a scale that runs high and low enough) and what business strategists call “engagement” are either the same thing or two concepts that run on parallel tracks.

    That said, if leaders categorize satisfaction as just the basics and believe their companies should aim higher to motivate and look out for employees, as the last sentence advises, I can’t think of much better guidance.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *