Satisfied or engaged? At Work, the Difference is Huge

What’s the difference between a satisfied employee and an engaged employee? Is it good enough for employees to be satisfied?

Satisfied employees are content employees; they’re happy with the status quo. And it seems having a high level of employee satisfaction would be a good thing. After all, satisfied employees don’t quit and go to work for someone else. They don’t demand 10% pay raises or a better dental plan. And they get along well enough with their coworkers.

Satisfied or engaged

But when has satisfaction ever propelled you to do great things? When has contentment caused you to take action? For instance, do they:

  • Go the extra mile for your organization?
  • Perform at the highest levels?
  • Wow your customers?

In other words, do satisfied employees behave and act like engaged employees? The answers are “maybe” and “sometimes.” 

Engaged employees’ actions can be described in three words: Rave, Remain, and Reach.

  • Rave refers to spreading good news about their employer. 
  • Remain refers to the willingness to stick with their employer even when times are tough. 
  • Reach refers to routinely going above and beyond – not only solving problems but routinely anticipating and preventing problems.

Why is this important? Because employee engagement is the simplest way to limit turnover, improve productivity, and boost employee referrals.

Take a look at Jake, a perfectly satisfied employee. When Jake is asked to describe what it’s like to work at his company, he says:

“My boss is a nice guy and he pretty much leaves me alone. I live close to the office, so that’s a major perk. I don’t have to work long hours, and there’s an endless supply of free snacks, coffee, and juice in the employee break room. And this year, they even started matching our 401k. What’s not to like?”

Jake is satisfied. Jake is content. But is Jake engaged?  Notice Jake doesn’t talk about his actual work. He doesn’t express excitement – or interest – in the projects he’s working on. Jake doesn’t say he’s proud to work for his company. Jake also doesn’t focus on intangibles like learning new things, being challenged, or solving complex problems.

  • Jake didn’t Rave.
  • He didn’t speak about Reaching and when times are tough.
  • It’s very likely Jake will not Remain. 

Jake is not an engaged employee

In conclusion, Jake is a perfect example of a satisfied employee. However, he’s not engaged. Engaged employees routinely make contributions that satisfied employees can’t.

Terri Casey is a consultant for Energage, a Philadelphia-based research and consulting firm that surveyed more than 2 million employees at more than 7,000 organizations in 2019. Energage is The Washington Post’s research partner for Top Workplaces.

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