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SANTIAGO JARAMILLO: Why employee engagement matters more than satisfaction

May 18, 2018

jaramillo-santiago-workplaceA couple of years ago, I made a mistake that would end up shaping the future of my company. Long before we turned our focus to employee-engagement insights, our executive management team came up with three annual objectives, one of which was focused on building our culture to become a “workplace of choice.”

I asked each of the executives to bring their best idea for an initiative to support this objective. Five executives walked into the room with five different ideas, all of them gut-based suggestions based on anecdotal hunches or experience.

After much debate—I kid you not—we landed on investing in an office-snack program as the best way to foster a better culture. You might be asking yourself: Why am I reading a post on talent and culture from the guy who chose snacks as the best engagement initiative?

A few months later, after we (Surprise!) weren’t seeing results from the snack initiative, we began measuring and quantifying engagement for our team. We found that the primary engagement blocker was a lack of role clarity for many of our employees. We were throwing Cheetos at our team members when what they really craved was a more thorough job description and a better understanding of the expectations for their role.

It was then that I really began to understand the value of employee-engagement data in helping us get to the root of our workplace problems and prioritize initiatives that would actually yield business outcomes and create a culture of high engagement.

Without engagement data, it’s easy to make the same mistake I did. Assuming that company-branded T-shirts, a pingpong table or other perks will solve engagement problems is an oversight we can’t afford to make. People don’t leave a company because it doesn’t offer free snacks—and they don’t stay and give their best just because it does.

In my last IBJ column, I discussed the “talent crunch” and the newfound pressure for leaders to adapt not only their business models, but also their cultures, to succeed in the competitive and change-filled modern business environment. The first step in attracting and retaining skilled talent is measuring the right metric, so you can choose the most effective initiatives to reach your culture and engagement aspirations. But what should we be measuring?

Often, business leaders make the mistake of measuring employee satisfaction or happiness. Employees can be satisfied with their jobs if they’re meeting their basic needs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re engaged or inspired. Psychologist Frederick Herzberg introduced the two-factor theory to explain what satisfies employees, versus what motivates them to do their best work.

Factors such as fair pay, fringe benefits, physical working conditions, job security and interpersonal relationships are what Herzberg calls “hygiene factors.” They are the basic food, water and shelter components of the workplace. Motivational factors intrinsically reward employees when they aim for superior performance. Factors like sense of achievement, recognition for accomplishments, growth and learning opportunities, and sense of meaning all fall into this category.

When we measure only satisfaction, we stunt the growth and success of our organizations. Herzberg also discovered that, when employees are satisfied, they “lean back.” They get comfortable and stop pushing forward. They begin doing the bare minimum to not be terminated. But satisfaction does not equal engagement, and engagement is what actually drives someone to give their best at work. In fact, Bain & Co. recently published a statistic that ends this debate about which metric to focus on: “Engaged staff are 44 percent more productive than satisfied staff.” Moreover, 73 percent of disengaged employees are looking for jobs and watching for new job opportunities.

The best definition of engagement we’ve found is: an employee’s intellectual (head) and emotional (heart) connection with an employer, demonstrated by motivation and commitment (hands) to further the company vision and goals.

When business leaders “lean in,” and begin solving for employee-engagement issues, employees become more excited, thoughtful, proactive and effective. They strive to do their best, stay in their roles longer than their disengaged peers, and actively promote the organization to their network.

Engagement is fostering an employee experience that gives your workers reasons to invest their full heart and mind in their work. This is how you will retain them, and this is how you will attract other top talent. It’s the true calling of leaders: Create engaging work environments where people can do the best work of their lives.•

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Jaramillo is co-founder and CEO of Emplify.

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