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Can Employee Engagement be bought?

An interesting question, and one that is sure to generate multiple opinions.  We repeatedly hear that money can’t buy happiness.  In his recent article Does Money Make You Happier?, Dr. Hal Hershfield examines the effects of money on happiness.  His article concludes that money affects overall well-being.  Therefore, Hershfield explains that richer countries don’t have “happier” citizens; they have citizens who are more satisfied with their lives.  We find the same relationship between happiness and satisfaction when looking at employee engagement survey results.

Satisfaction and Engagement

In a previous blog “Are Your Employees Engaged or Just Satisfied?,” we discussed how compensation initiates a transactional relationship based on satisfaction.  In the blog, Dr. Maylett, explains that employers provide compensation to employees who, in return, perform their job duties.  It’s a contractual, transactional relationship.  Competitive compensation is expected by employees.  Once pay rates fall below competitive levels, the contract is no longer being fulfilled, and employees become dissatisfied and either underperform or seek new employment—or both.

Happiness and Employee Engagement

So, what about happiness? We find that happiness is more closely related to employee engagement.  Obviously money matters (try telling your employees, “Oh, by the way, we won’t be paying you in April”), but not in the way that many people assume.  Too often HR and Management teams, anxious to boost employee survey scores or myriad other factors, focus on compensation components as a way to engage their employees.  Remember, satisfied employees aren’t always engaged or happy employees.  In fact, they may not even be productive employees.  So, let’s take a look at what contributes to happiness and engagement.

As humans, we long for social interaction and friendships (even the raging introverts like me).  By having friendships in the workplace, we experience higher levels of social connection—one of the five essential elements of employee engagement.  Knowing and getting along with the people we work with makes us excited to go to work, because we’ll be able to work with and be around those we have brought into our circle.  Friendships—or, at the very least, a sense of connection with coworkers—lead to employee engagement.

Another factor that contributes to happiness and engagement is feeling a sense of meaning.  If we find meaning in the activities we preform, we will become more engaged.  This rule is best illustrated by an anecdotal example:

In high school I had a job working at Papa Murphy’s Take ‘n’ Bake Pizza.  The job didn’t pay well, but I was still engaged.  The company espouses a zealous prioritization of exemplary customer service and complete customer satisfaction.  I noticed how the company made customer service a priority above all other things, which aligned with my personal values.  Since I believed customers anywhere should receive great service, I was happy to work for a company that shared that belief.  I found a sense of meaning in my job by contributing to the top priority of the company while fulfilling one of my personal values.

Notice how neither of the two elements above (connection and meaning) have anything to do with compensation!  Both elements are essential when trying to achieve—or augment—levels of employee engagement.  Yet, we often hear of a manager sitting down in the HR Manager’s office, saying, “We have to give her an increase or she’ll walk.” While this may be the case at times, we typically find that compensation is merely an easy-out for a more complex issue.  Money can only do so much.

Next time your organization rolls out an employee engagement survey, be careful when you examine the results.  Take it for what it is.   Questions that deal with levels of benefits and compensation are generally rated poorly by employee respondents.  It’s always been the case, and likely always will be.  None of us is paid what we (think we) are worth. Throwing more money at employees isn’t the first place to start when trying to improve employee engagement.  You may get satisfied employees, but satisfaction won’t translate into engagement or happiness.

Employee Engagement Survey Sample Download

About Reese Haydon

Reese is the Marketing Specialist at DecisionWise. His work experience includes functions such as Global Business Services - Employee Experience at Cisco Systems, Organizational Leadership and Strategy at Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management, and Executive Coaching at FranklinCovey.

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