Why a Happy Employee Is Not Necessarily an Engaged Employee

A couple of years ago, an exquisite article was published on Wharton's website, describing the modern job market as a place where employee loyalty hit an all-time low. The article identified the main reasons for this – disillusionment following the 2008 financial crisis, reduction in employee training and benefits, and a different approach with which the millennial workforce saw their employers.

Whatever the reasons might be, the fact is that the modern workforce is nowhere near as loyal as the previous generations had been and while it can be debated whether this is a good or a bad thing, the reality is that employers are in a bit of a bind.

Why Employee Loyalty is Important for Employers

There are plenty of reasons why employee loyalty is essential for modern businesses, with the most important one definitely being the fact that serious employee turnover hurts the company financially. The costs of replacing an employee that has been with the company for a few years are substantial, especially if you factor in the reduced productivity you will get from the replacement in the early days.

In order to retain their top employees, companies do a number of things and the ultimate goal is usually attaining employee engagement where employees are not simply content working for the company, but also giving it a hundred percent every single day. Often going over the one-hundred percent.

However, employee motivation is a complex field and in order to better survey it, we need to address a very commonly believed myth about employee happiness, motivation and engagement.

The ”Happiness Equals Engagement" Myth

Often times, when you ask managers and HR people about employee engagement, you will hear that employee happiness and employee engagement are the same thing. At first, it makes sense. If someone is happy with their company, they will go beyond the call of duty simply because they are happy or even grateful they work for such a company.

When you think about it for a while longer, and many experts will agree, employee happiness does not automatically mean employee engagement.

For example, an employee may be happy because they have a decent pay, a nice benefits package and a ping pong table at work. They are content. They know how crappy their friends' jobs and companies are and they spend the days counting their blessings.

This does not mean they will go above and beyond the call of duty because of this. They will probably not slack off too much, but there is also no guarantee that they will spend their every waking hour thinking about how they can help their company.

This, quite conveniently, gets us to the agreed-upon definition of a fluid concept (more on its fluidity later) that is employee engagement. Namely, most people will agree with Gallup's definition which describes engaged employees as those "psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations."

Nowhere does it say that only happy employees are engaged or that all engaged employees are happy.

Which brings us to another clue as to why employee engagement and employee happiness are not the same thing.

Namely, it is not that rare to see an incredibly engaged employee who is not exactly over the moon about their job or where the company is at the moment. They will work like crazy, they will not take days off, they will destroy keyboards, and they will definitely be engaged, but not necessarily happy.

This engaged employee wants to get their job and their company to the point where they will be happy and they do it by being engaged and working towards this goal.

Things To Understand About Modern Employee Engagement

One of the first things to understand about modern employee engagement (or any kind of employee engagement for that matter) is that this is a concept that cannot be precisely measured in any meaningful and absolutely objective way.

For most employers, it comes down to employee surveys which probably still are the most sensible and efficient way to get some feedback. However, it needs to be said that many employers do these surveys offhandedly, either obtaining half-decent data or, what is even worse, not acting upon it.

When you survey your employees, they think that you will do something about their complaints, and rightfully so. Doing employee satisfaction and engagement surveys just so you can say you have done them will often cause the opposite effect of what you had hoped for. Of course, there are also some experts who think these surveys are completely useless, such as Robert Gerst.

The presence of websites like Glassdoor is difficult to ignore these days, with their anonymous workplace and employer reviews. It should be pointed out, however, that the percentage of employees that actually write reviews is under 2% and that they are far more likely to be negative. Because of this, you should not pay too much attention to the negative reviews, including those speaking of poor employee engagement.

Another thing you should understand is that trying to transplant a certain company's employee engagement practices to yours is a bad idea. All companies are different and there are innumerable idiosyncrasies to all of them. Because of this, something that works for a certain company may feel forced and fake in your enterprise and it can have a bad influence on employee engagement – the "forced fun" issue.

Keeping all of the aforementioned in mind, there are some eternal employee management truths. For instance, no one likes to be taken for a fool, doing someone else's work. Employing one of the best project management tools will ensure this does not happen and everyone handles their own tasks. By using one of these tools, companies will also more quickly notice employees who are engaged and who deserve recognition.

Finally, you should understand that there are people who will simply never be engaged. They will handle their tasks and you will grow to rely on them for certain tasks. Not everyone who works for you has to be super-engaged 100% of the time. This is perfectly fine. Not everyone lives for their career.

Closing Word

Employee happiness does not equal employee engagement. Also, employee engagement is not something that you can force or copy from someone else.

Instead of chasing employee engagement for selfish reasons like productivity, do it because you want your employees to feel good about coming in to work. Sit down and talk to people. Listen to them. Hear them out. Really hear them out.

Everything else will follow naturally.


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