Stop Wasting Your Time (and Money) on Employee Satisfaction

I have often been guilty of using the phrase, “There’s no such thing as a happy non-performer” when discussing the idea that basic human nature is to be disappointed when performing poorly.

In all honesty, it was, at times, my way of justifying (to myself and others) letting an employee go or reprimanding for poor performance.

In addition to the performance component, I was telling myself that the employee couldn’t have been happy because he was an underperformer. It’s my way of justifying the psychological component.

I still believe the above — for the most part. However, my thoughts have shifted.

Can there be an engaged non-performer?

I still believe that most underperformers are unhappy. Aren’t we generally happiest when we feel that we are performing well?  Still, that doesn’t explain the fact that there are many employees who are “getting by” at work, just “putting in their time,” yet they seem to be perfectly content.

We’ve all seen it. Perhaps we’ve been there. I then discovered the notion of employee engagement, and shifted my adage to “There’s no such thing as an engaged non-performer.”

Allow me to explain.

Engagement is not simply a state of being — a psychological condition. Happiness, on the other hand, is just that — a feeling.

Engagement requires action. It’s both psychological and behavioral.

Think of it this way: psychological = “feel,” while behavioral = “do.” Engagement requires that I both feel and do. I can’t simply feel engaged; that’s only part of the equation. This psychological state is merely a feeling until I act upon it.

That’s engagement.

Employee satisfaction and the bottom line

Engagement requires that I both feel and do, the psychological and the behavioral. Happy employees, or, for that matter, “satisfied” employees do little good for an organization. That’s why so many of us have hang-ups about whether employee satisfaction actually translates to the bottom line.

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The truth? It doesn’t! Don’t waste your money. It’s great to have happy and satisfied employees (and we have an important moral responsibility there), but that doesn’t keep the widget line running, at least not at optimal capacity.

It’s only when what the employee feels is translated into action that the bottom line gets a boost. Organizations today waste an absurd amount of money on employee satisfaction, as well as keeping employees happy.

It’s a noble effort, and one that absolutely needs to continue, but still doesn’t address the “do” component.

“Satisfaction is not engagement”

Did those new coffee machines really increase productivity, or just make employees happy until they realize they don’t have the Smoothie Man come in every Friday, like the company down the road?

Satisfaction is not engagement. Satisfaction and happiness are the “price of admission.” It lets us play the game, but it’s not what results in the win. Let’s don’t confuse the two.

So, happy non-performers? Sure, it’s possible.

But, engaged non-performers?  The very definition of engagement tells us this isn’t possible.

This was originally published on the DecisionWise blog.

Tracy Maylett is the Chief Executive Officer of DecisionWise, and co-author of the award-winning book, MAGIC: Five Keys to Unlock the Power of Employee Engagement and The Employee Experience: How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results published by Wiley & Sons. He is responsible for guiding the overall strategy of DecisionWise, as well as leading large-scale change efforts for clients throughout the globe. Tracy has a doctorate in Organization Change from Pepperdine University, an M.B.A. from Brigham Young University, and a B.A. in Education from Utah State University. He has also received certification as a Senior Professional of Human Resources (SPHR), as well as earning SHRM-SCP credentials.


3 Comments on “Stop Wasting Your Time (and Money) on Employee Satisfaction

  1. Agreed! We need to move beyond engagement to action. Many blindly call engagement a leading indicator – but it isn’t necessarily so. Maybe it is sometimes, for a specific company, in a specific role, at a specific time – but we need to stop making wild assertions that because engagement did correlate for someone else – it also correlates for us.

    Predictive analytics allows us to predict action. We can do better.

  2. I enjoyed your article. Yes, Engagement has become to HR buzz word. As an HR professional, I know that just because an emplyee is happy or satisfied…doesnt translate into them actually performing. Many happy and/or satisfied employees are content. And…it is my belief that content employees are not employees called to action (which is what a business needs). We need to be more concerned about what calls an employee to action vs. employee satisfaction concerns. Great article and I will keep it in my cache of go to pieces of HR resources.

  3. DecisionWise, eh? Alright, I’ll be sure to keep an eye on this company
    and tell others to keep away for anyone doing business with you.

    There’s a difference between giving employees smoothies to keep them satisfied and addressing the real issue behind employee dissatisfaction: incompetent managers. Many times, managers have superiority complexes that drives them to think that demeaning employees and managing by fear is the best way of maintaining productivity.

    Wrong. Start by hiring employees that are professionals and expect them to deliver product. Compensate them appropriately for this work and don’t trick them out of pay. Get off your high-horse and read “20-Minute Manager” while applying Agile principles in your company. If your wife won’t blow you, hire a whore that will so you come in with a good perspective in the morning.

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