At E3, we’re passionate about engagement. It’s at the heart of everything we do, especially when implementing our unique survey tool. Why engagement? Because it’s the secret sauce to retention, productivity, and a positive work environment.

In today’s post, we’re going to uncover what engagement is, what it isn’t, and why measuring it is critical to your organization’s well-being.     

What’s the difference between satisfaction and engagement?

Employee satisfaction is not the same as employee engagement. Employee satisfaction measures attitudes. When you measure employee engagement, you are assessing behaviors. Regularly asking employees how satisfied they are will simply increase a sense of entitlement. Attitudes can fluctuate with one negative or positive event, and keeping employees happy is not the role of management.

Here is how researchers describe the differences: “Engagement connotes activation, whereas satisfaction connontes satiation. In addition, although ‘satisfaction’ surveys that ask employees to describe their work conditions may be relevant for assessing the conditions that provide for engagement, they do not directly tap engagement.” Essentially, an employee can be satisfied at work but still not be able to identify meaning and purpose in what they do or act in alignment with the organization’s mission, vision, and values.

The perils of asking the wrong questions

When selecting a survey tool that’s right for you, think critically about what the questions are actually investigating. For example, “Do you think you are paid a fair and equitable wage?” is an important question, but it should not be asked in an engagement survey. Here’s why:  Employees tend to bias their answer to this question negatively, and when the survey results indicate, say, that “65 percent of employees do not feel they are paid fairly,” there is an expectation that everyone will get a raise. And when that raise doesn’t happen, employees will view the entire engagement initiative as ineffective because they won’t feel heard. Assuming staff are paid fairly, the compensation question overemphasizes the role of money as a driver of high-performance and reinforces perceptions that employee disengagement can only be “fixed” by paying people more.

Anonymity is key  

Survey tools bring a remarkable amount of transparency to the employee-manager relationship in a workplace culture. Because these responses are anonymous and cannot be tied to any single respondent, employees can offer their input in a safe and productive manner, without fear of negative repercussions if they have something difficult or uncomfortable to share.

Employees want their voices heard (in the case of our survey, both in the data and the open-ended questions), but they don’t want to be identified. This is a key reason why companies should not run an engagement survey themselves. Employee anonymity (perceived and actual) is critical in establishing trust and effectiveness in the tool.

The impact of simply conducting a survey

The E3 team works with clients to get as close to 100 percent survey participation as possible. Our clients have achieved as high as 98 percent participation, making the survey more of a census than a poll. For many employees, this survey tool is the first time employees have been asked their opinion on issues related to leadership quality and the company’s well-being. The fact that leaders in this organization are deploying a survey tool like this sends a message that they want to know how things are going. That fact alone increases engagement.

The magic of measuring

Why measure employee engagement? There are several reasons that top the list for me. First, the things you measure get noticed. Talking about the importance of a high-performance workplace will get nods of approval. Measuring the details of what increases engagement for every team, department, and physical location will get action from those leaders in charge.

Second, collecting data using a survey provides clarity for managers at every level in the company regarding what is expected of them. Managers are overwhelmed with tasks; leading has never been so complex. A good survey is not just an assessment tool; it should also provide a laundry list of what leaders need to do to influence real culture shifts across the enterprise. It should make the necessary changes easier, less obscure, and more actionable.

Third – almost anything you measure with rigor and regularity improves. Of course, having the right questions helps. Measuring can have this impact primarily because it leads to people to be more intentional and focused as a result of what is being evaluated.

The point here is something we have seen with every client – metrics give employee engagement initiatives an energy and effectiveness boost. Leaders at all levels in the organization get more engaged and focused, and because the survey (and associated communication from senior leaders) touches every employee, the entire enterprise becomes more conscious of both the intent and substance of the program.

Key Takeaways

  • Metrics boost the commitment to employee engagement initiatives within an organization as well as their clarity and effectiveness.
  • Three things you should look for in a survey tool: (1) it measures engagement, not satisfaction, (2) participants will remain completely anonymous, (3) it asks the right kinds of questions, which truly correlate to conditions that create engagement in an organization.
  • An effective engagement tool creates transparency among your employees, makes your employees feel heard, and leads to constructive and positive change.