Understanding the Difference between Engagement and Satisfaction

Let’s be clear. The terms employee engagement and employee satisfaction are NOT interchangeable. This article is one of the worst examples I’ve seen of the terms being used interchangeably, to great confusion.

Why does this matter? Employees can be quite satisfied with their job, your company and their place in it without ever engaging in the work. Think about it. Have you ever had an employee or colleague who was perfectly satisfied to come to work every day where they could happily surf the web, Facebook with their friends or play computer games? Perhaps that’s a bit extreme, but we all know employees who are satisfied with being left alone in their mediocrity.

Engaged employees, on the other hand, are passionate and alive with the desire to perform well and do so in alignment with your strategic objectives. These are the employees you need to be focused on. These are the employees for whom you need to be creating an environment in which they want to engage for the long-term. Measuring employee engagement with a goal for improving that environment is always worthwhile.

A new book, Engagement: Winning the Battle for Customer and Employee Hearts and Minds, explains why this is important – to both employees and customers:

“We know that emotionally engaged employees feel like they are doing something valuable for their organizations and that their efforts will make a difference. Customers know when they are talking to emotionally engaged employees. The positive feelings that employees have about their jobs and employers influence the level of service they give to customers. When these positive experiences continue to happen, then customers become engaged, and they become advocates for the company’s products and services.”

With this in mind, are you measuring and trying to improve employee satisfaction or employee engagement?

Derek Irvine

About Derek Irvine

The VP of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their organizations. As a renowned speaker and co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and "Winning with a Culture of Recognition," he teaches companies how to use recognition to proactively manage company culture. Derek holds a B.Comm and Masters of Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.

8 Responses

  1. working says:

    Great point – although it's harder to get from dissatisfaction to engagement than from satisfaction to engagement. So a strategy to improve satisfaction and then work on engagement could make sense for some organizations.

  2. Derek Irvine says:

    Indeed, working. Then again, directly addressing the factors of engagement would necessarily improve satisfaction as well.

  3. blank says:


    Ever since EE came into the picture, we may have got carried away in overlooking what is it that we seek at work.

    As I see it, the purpose of EE is to fulfill the motivation, or call it "satisfaction" of individuals goals in order to meet the coampny's goals.

    I beg to differ with your call to the creation of an environment that caters for "engaged". It seem to suggest that we just ignore or condone those "satisfied" people who eat into the company's resources. I believe that's not what the whole philosophy and concept of EE is about.

    If an employee has the luxury of time to preoccupy his working time on non-work and selfish pursuits at the expense of the comapny's time, then there is a serious flaw to the EE, specifically in relationship to performance accountability and leadership supervision.

    You raised a good example of someone who is happy and satisfied surfing the net all day. Where does EE fit into the picture. EE is the domain of leadership responsibility in making the right decision that "satisfies" the collective needs of stakeholders. Employees happen to be in that chain of interdependence action.

    Hence, EE is the sum total of initiative or actions taken by decision makers (obviously management!) in creating a healthy work environment for employees to serve the long term interest of the company and its stakeholders.

    Satisfaction is the outcome that employee derive from serving in such a healthy environment and going that extra mile to making sacrifices in making the company a success.

    The report seem to imply that people are not happy or satisfied following what they saw happen during the recession. They are disatisfied because of the type of EE that took place or the lack of it. I suspect the main contribution is over how people got laid off following poor leadership decisions.

    I see EE as a "partnering" model to leadership in taking the employment relationship to a whole new level on accountability at the workplace and how it directly impacts satisfaction of employees and indirectly on other stakeholders – customers, suppliers, shareholders and other third parties.

  4. Derek Irvine says:

    Blank, I like where you're going with the idea of EE as the sum total of actions to create a healthy environment whereas satisfaction is the outcome that employee derive from serving in such a healthy environment.

  5. […] to work are about as useful as measuring “employee satisfaction.” People show up to the office – or they are “satisfied” with the job they have […]

  6. […] with Globoforce well over a decade now. In that time, I’ve seen first-hand the transition from “employee satisfaction” to “employee engagement.” In early days, we would often need to define employee engagement and explain the value of […]

  7. Kwame says:

    It all depends on how you define “employee engagement and “employee satisfaction.” We define and measure employee engagement by means of 4Ss: the 3Ss that Hewitt Associates (now AON Hewitt) came up with – “say,” “stay,” and “strive,” and our addition “satisfied.” We don’t think that an employee will “say, stay and strive” for long, if at all, if they’re not “satisfied.”

    • Derek Irvine Derek Irvine says:

      Thanks for the contribution, Kwame. This is an excellent point and a good example of satisfaction used correctly.

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