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May 27, 2014
4 min read
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Performance Management, Supercharged


Let’s talk about what employee engagement actually is, because there seems to be some confusion about what a truly engaged employee might look like. The standard definition is:

“The emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.” 

While employee satisfaction and happiness are commonly thought to be synonymous with engagement, they are surely not. Job satisfaction and workplace happiness could be the result of employee engagement, but trust that they are not one in the same.



Happiness Doesn’t Deliver

For starters, even the happiest employee in your organization could very well also be the lowest producing. This isn’t to say that your employees’ happiness is of no consequence; however, engagement initiatives and workplace happiness initiatives aren’t going to be the same thing. Employee engagement expert Kevin Kruse said:

“Someone might be happy at work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are working hard, productively on behalf of the organization. While company game rooms, free massages and Friday keg parties are fun–and may be beneficial for other reasons–making employees happy is different from making them engaged.”

Satisfaction Not Guaranteed

We’ve established that satisfaction does not necessarily equal engagement, but in fact it can be quite the opposite. Engaged employees are passionate about what they do, they are also commonly viewed as workplace disruptors. Engaged employees can be quite unsatisfied as they push for change and attempt to insight passion in those around them.

In college I knew a group of friends who all bartended together. They would serve their friends free drinks all night, cover for each other on long breaks and maybe help themselves to a six-pack out of the cooler to enjoy while they were closing up shop. Do you think they were satisfied? Heck yeah they were! Employee engagement expert Dustin Walling said:

Employee satisfaction is a feeling of contentment in employees that results from conditions in their workplace.  These conditions may or may not be intentionally created, and they do not have to be conditions that are good for the company.”

These are highly disengaged, albeit highly satisfied workers. So if happiness and satisfaction aren’t the marks of engaged employees what are we looking for?

Discretionary Effort

Those two beautiful words that every leader wants to see, but few know how to insight, are discretionary effort. According to Impact Achievement Group research, “The average American employee feels that the effort a person has to give in order to keep his or her paycheck is about 70% of what they feel they could be giving.” We really liked a perspective form Julie Winkle Giulioni in a SmartBlogs article. She contends that leaders should raise the “just get by” bar higher to close the discretionary effort gap. Guilioni contends that leaders should consider the following: 

  • What if we raised expectations to better align with actual capacity?
  • What if excellence was the standard?
  • What if one’s best effort was required to “just get by”?
  • What if we eliminate the whole idea of discretionary effort by making 100% (or darn close to it) the performance goal? 

That’s great in theory, but strong initiatives, change and new goals are all going to have to be leadership driven. Goals will have to be established, agreed upon as realistic, well-communicated, tracked daily and constantly aligned on the individual level. On paper that all sounds great, but none of this is going to be able to happen on paper. Setting new goals and monitoring them in real-time requires the right technology, to not only help leaders in their strategic endeavors, but to simply make it possible.

If you’re interested in changing the “just get by” standard in your workplace, getting employees truly engaged and watching your vision become a reality, we would love to talk to you today. Sign up for a demo and we will reach out to answer any questions you have.

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