After all, if an employee is satisfied with their job, it means they’re actively engaging with their duties and reaping the benefits as a result, right? Not so. Though it would logically follow that satisfaction creates engagement and vice versa, it’s not as straightforward as that.
What is more straightforward is the importance of maintaining and fostering the two concepts. ‘Happy employees do a better job’ goes the saying, but how do those who own businesses and manage employees keep workers motivated and ensure their needs are being met?
Here, we’ll weigh up the importance of the two ideas before exploring how to improve satisfaction, increase engagement and foster advocacy in the process.
In discussing the importance of satisfaction and engagement, it’s worth delving into psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs at the outset. He proposed that people are motivated to achieve certain needs, and that some needs take precedence over others. Therefore, he detailed five levels of need that give us something to work towards; once one level is fulfilled we move onto the next thing that motivates us.
Physiological needs: The most basic of needs include things required for human survival such as air, food, drink, clothing, etc. Until these needs are met, all others are secondary.
Safety needs: These encapsulate the things that give us a form of stability, such as financial security, physical safety and emotional well-being. Before progressing to higher levels of need, a person will seek out safety first.
Love and belongingness needs: The need for interpersonal relationships motivates this next need; friendship, intimacy, trust and acceptance, and being part of a group (including a team at work) inform our behaviour at this stage.
Esteem needs: Maslow splits these into two groups: ego (or self-esteem) and status (or reputation). The former involves the things we do to foster dignity, achievement and independence, while the latter is how we glean status and prestige from others.
Self-actualisation needs: The peak of human need, self-actualisation represents the pinnacle of ourselves; the desire, as Maslow puts it, “to become everything one is capable of becoming”. This involves a realisation of personal potential, seeking growth and self-fulfilment.
Maslow stated that this order of needs might be flexible based on external circumstances or individual differences, and some people will place more importance on one need than others. Additionally, he also notes that the majority of behaviour is multi-motivated; it is largely determined by multiple or all of the basic needs at the same time, rather than one of them.
Think about job satisfaction. We can see elements of these needs in what people look to get out of a “dream job” scenario. Motivators such as achievement, self-fulfilment, valuable interpersonal relationships and financial stability are things the vast majority of people would desire from their occupation.
However, satisfaction doesn’t necessarily correlate with engagement. Therefore, it’s important to distinguish between the two if an organisation wants to create a culture of engagement, which is where the real elements of Maslow’s needs lie.
Satisfaction certainly covers the basic needs of employees, but it can also mean the bare minimum. As a result, businesses shouldn’t combine satisfaction with engagement. Satisfaction generally implies a degree of enjoyment, but it may also suggest employees are content to stay within the confines of their job description and not much more. They’re satisfied but unengaged, often settling for “good enough”, despite the fact they could add value to the company with the appropriate engagement.
If you often conduct satisfaction surveys or have been thinking about doing so, then be mindful that they can result in false readings. High satisfaction might seem like a good thing on paper, but increasing the wrong kind of satisfaction can backfire. Employees with the least value become more deeply ingrained in the fabric of the company culture, while the most talented employees, feeling they’re being wasted, will start to look for a new job as a result.
In progressing to the upper tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, effective engagement of a workforce has a better chance of setting them on the path to self-actualisation. Engaged employees are invested in the success of the business and are committed to helping the company achieve its goals. They go beyond the minimum effort and exceed what’s expected of them, their sense of purpose and leadership is keen, and they don’t shy away from challenges.
Put simply then, employee engagement is the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organisation, and put discretionary effort into their work. Encouraging engagement is hugely valuable to an organisation but doing so involves more than merely offering competitive salaries and benefit packages.
Here’s what you can do to create a more engaged organisation:
To this end, engagement should be measured regularly. An annual employee engagement survey report isn’t enough to show you’re serious about engagement; too often, it merely captures a mood at that moment in time, rather than the continuing journey of engagement throughout the year.
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