As managers, we’re always looking for the next shiny object in talent management. That new ‘thing’ that will drive performance. Along came employee engagement, and job satisfaction quickly became its poor cousin. In fact, some leaders have removed job satisfaction from their ‘engagement’ surveys, despite 80 years of research showing its importance.
What’s the difference? Job satisfaction is widely considered to be an emotional state resulting from appraising one’s job. Employee engagement on the other hand, is most often seen as a mix of vigor or energy on the job, absorption in one’s work, and dedication to one’s work.
So, what’s more important, having satisfied or engaged employees? It depends, in part, on what you ultimately need from your people. Is it more effort, or more loyalty and retention?
In one of my studies, highly-engaged employees were more likely to give 110% and go the extra mile. However, their highly-satisfied counterparts were more committed to their employers, and less likely to leave. This replicates other studies.
Engaged employees may be more desirable if you have productivity problems, or if you have a need for agility or urgency in the market. However, employees that have high, overall satisfaction with their jobs may be more preferred if your turnover costs are high, or if you need to retain loyal people in difficult times ahead.
If it’s performance you want, one meta-analysis of many studies suggests that while both variables are important, employees that are satisfied may be more important for performance in the long run.
One implication of all of this is to make sure that you measure both satisfaction and engagement on your employee survey (not engagement survey), as well as many potential drivers of each of them.