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6 Min Read

Employee Satisfaction vs Engagement: What’s the Difference?

Nicole Klemp

We all want to be satisfied with our jobs. None of us want to hate what we do, be underpaid, treated poorly, or experience the “Sunday Scaries” because we’re so dreading the workweek. 

But is satisfaction enough? Does having a workforce full of satisfied employees always lead to positive business outcomes?

The terms “employee satisfaction” and “employee engagement” are often used interchangeably. But while you can assume engaged employees are satisfied with their job, not all satisfied employees are engaged. (Wait, what?)

To clear things up, let’s dig into what sets employee satisfaction and engagement apart and learn about the major factors that influence engagement in an organization.

Understanding the differences between satisfaction and engagement

For HR leaders, understanding the difference between job satisfaction and employee engagement is crucial. Let’s start with satisfaction.

What is employee satisfaction?

Having satisfied employees isn’t necessarily a bad thing. (The alternative is to have dissatisfied people, which can create a whole host of problems.) But satisfaction alone isn’t enough for employees to do their best work. 

Satisfaction is surface-level. A satisfied employee may be content or even “happy” to come to work each day and collect their paycheck. They typically do what’s asked of them and follow the rules. They don’t ruffle any feathers or cause any disruptions.

That said, if an employee is merely satisfied but not engaged at work, they won’t go above and beyond. They’ll do the bare minimum to stay employed and won’t strive to meet or exceed stretch goals. These folks are not your high performers. 

What is employee engagement?

The ideal employee is both satisfied and engaged. Engaged employees are excited and energized by their work. They’re dedicated team members and helpful colleagues. They strive to perform their role at a high level and are passionate about the company’s mission and vision.

Certain factors contribute to an employee’s overall level of engagement. These engagement “drivers” include:

  • Autonomy
  • Capacity
  • Coworker relationships
  • Fairness
  • Feedback
  • Goal support
  • Leader availability
  • Leader integrity
  • Meaning
  • Professional development
  • Psychological safety
  • Purpose
  • Role clarity
  • Relationship with manager
  • Rest
  • Shared values
  • Utilization

At 15Five, we define employee engagement as “those who find work and life consistently energizing, inspiring, and meaningful because they are leveraging their highest strengths, values, and passions.” 

Highly engaged employees have a deep commitment and emotional connection to their work and are enthusiastic about learning and growing in their careers. (On the flip side, “disengaged” employees are less productive, have a higher risk of turnover, and can even have a negative impact on their teams and the company culture.)

Read more about each of the 17 drivers of employee engagement.

Employee engagement is a predictor of business success

According to research by McKinsey, 70% of employees say their sense of purpose is defined by their work, and therefore, when that work feels meaningful, they’re more likely to perform better and be committed to their job. 

Research continues to prove a strong connection between employee engagement and business success. When employees have what they need to do their best work, they consistently perform at a higher level. The more engaged employees you have, the more customers, stakeholders, and the bottom line benefit.

In a 2020 meta-analysis, Gallup found a substantial relationship between engagement and performance across organizations. In the study, employee engagement is strongly correlated to each of these 11 business outcomes:

  • Customer loyalty/engagement
  • Profitability
  • Productivity
  • Turnover
  • Safety incidents
  • Absenteeism
  • Shrinkage
  • Patient safety incidents
  • Quality (defects)
  • Wellbeing
  • Organizational citizenship

Why employee engagement matters today

We know employee engagement translates into good things for an organization. But companies of all sizes across every industry are still struggling to crack the code on engagement. The “quiet quitting” epidemic that we first started talking about during the pandemic persists today across the globe.

According to Gallup’s 2023 State of the Global Workplace report, 59% of employees are not engaged (i.e., quiet quitting), and 18% are actively disengaged, which Gallup calls “loud quitting.” 

As Adam Weber, 15Five’s SVP of Community, recently said, “The ideology behind quiet quitting has become popular because workplaces have deprioritized what’s important to so many employees when it comes to how, where, and why they work… Workers are no longer willing to feel taken advantage of.”

Learn more about why employee engagement is important in 2023

Measuring employee engagement

By confidentially and incrementally measuring the presence (or absence) drivers of engagement, you can better understand what truly engages your employees and create programs and initiatives that meet their needs. 

A well-crafted employee engagement survey can provide a clearer picture of what’s working well for your employees and help you uncover the roadblocks that are getting in their way. It’s built on reliable data collection and the ability to slice-and-dice insights to dig deeper into areas of engagement among different groups.

We recommend running organization-wide employee surveys 2-4 times annually, with opportunities for more regular feedback throughout the year. Shorter, more frequent pulse surveys and weekly check-ins between employees and managers can provide real-time feedback and give employees an opportunity to share more about how things are going at a specific point in time.

Taking action on feedback

A study by Qualtrics found that while 92% of employees believe it’s important that their company listens to their feedback, only 7% say their company acts on feedback really well. 

Employees will stop sharing honest feedback (or may just skip your surveys altogether) if they feel leadership won’t take any real action. It’s important to show employees that their feedback matters and is being considered when decisions are made. 

Once you get the employee engagement survey results back, create a timely action plan and stick to it. Building and nurturing a more engaging employee experience is critical to retaining your top talent and delivering better business results.

Learn how to increase employee engagement with 15Five

Employee engagement involves a person’s perception, feelings, and beliefs about the business, the people they work with, leadership, and the work itself. The drivers of employee engagement are highly personal, dependent on the company culture, and vary for each individual. 

Find out what’s working in your organization (and what’s not) and uncover actionable strategies to improve employee satisfaction and engagement through psychometrically-valid surveys and 15Five’s holistic suite of performance tools.

Learn more >