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Engagement and Satisfaction, same thing, right? Not so fast. Although they may have similar roots, they are definitely not the same. However, many organizations act as if these two words—engagement and satisfaction—were interchangeable.

Many organizations confuse Employee Satisfaction with Employee Engagement. The fact is, they result in very different outcomes.

From our blog post on Employee Satisfaction on Why Employee Satisfaction Does Not Always Result in Employee Engagement we see that satisfaction is transactional. It is a “this-for-that” relationship, like a bank account. As long as the employer is depositing sufficient “funds” (compensation, satisfactory workplace, safety, benefits, an occasional bonus, etc.) into the satisfaction account, the employee is willing to contribute effort commensurate with these deposits. The employee is then, once again, rewarded through subsequent deposits for his or her effort, and the cycle repeats itself ad infinitum, or until there is an imbalance on one side of the equation or the other that causes the cycle to end. The employee quits, reduces effort, or gets fired.

Engagement, however, is much deeper. It goes beyond a simple transactional exchange and involves discretionary effort. The term “discretionary” implies that there is additional effort available on the part of the employee that he or she can CHOOSE to apply. However, the choice to apply this effort is something not stated in the satisfaction contract—it’s up to the employee.

Despite these differences, most organizations don’t suffer from satisfaction issues. It’s lack of engagement. Yet most companies attempt to address engagement issues through satisfaction solutions. Rather than addressing those elements that create true engagement, they further perpetuate the problem by depositing more into the satisfaction account, and ignore the engagement account. Daycare, snacks in the break-room, a company pet, and added compensation are all welcome perks, and may temporarily increase the company’s balance in the satisfaction account, but they are short-lived. Only engagement solutions create an environment in which people can choose to be engaged.


Tracy Maylett
Tracy Maylett

Tracy is the Chief Executive Officer and President of DecisionWise, and is responsible for guiding the overall strategy of DecisionWise, as well as leading large-scale change efforts for clients throughout the globe. View Bio

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4 comments — View
  • Interesting. Why, then, do so many companies tend to put so much investment into these satisfaction areas if they don’t result in anything but a transactional expectation?

    • Probably because they don’t understand how to measure the real drivers. Satisfaction is relatively easy to measure and correlate with business objectives. “Engagement” is a multifaceted construct that requires more nuanced measurement, and greater knowledge/ability to relate those metrics to business objectives.

  • I can only speak for myself. I get a paycheck and I work my 8.5 hours in return. I guess I could say I’m satisfied, but engaged? No way.

  • It’s about choice. When an employee feels she has to do something, it’s a transaction. But when I’m engaged I choose to do something.

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