I received this question some time ago and I have to say that the answer was not as easy to frame as I thought. The different ways in which an employee is connected to the company he or she works for can take several shapes, be it engagement, satisfaction or happiness. So I did some research.
1. Job satisfaction as an engagement area
In their 2013 Employee Engagement Trends Report, Quantum Workplace define job satisfaction as an engagement area. According to the report, job satisfaction was one of the most favorably ranked areas in the least engaged organizations, along with trust. The two areas shared a common theme: self-interest, meaning that employees from these lower-performing companies were constantly thinking of themselves and their close relationships at work, whereas organizations with the highest levels of engagement showed a much higher organization-interest.
If we were to think of job satisfaction as an engagement area, it seems that it would be a personal engagement driver that employees fully control. In other words, you’re as satisfied with your job as you allow yourself to be.
In this case, just like happiness, your satisfaction with your job is a personal choice to be made, determining your engagement level.
2. Employee satisfaction is functional, as opposed to employee engagement, which is emotional
I found another interesting point of view, that distinguishes engagement from job satisfaction as being emotional versus functional.
“Employee satisfaction is functional. What an employee is getting out of their company as much as they are putting into it (that is, the employee value proposition). It is a measure of an employee’s happiness with a company, their particular job, or their co-workers among other factors.
Employee engagement is emotional. Employees who are engaged speak positively about the organization to others, are committed to remaining with their current employer, and are motivated by their organizations’ leaders, managers, culture and values to go “above and beyond” to contribute to business success.”
I might have read that twice to fully understand the difference. It seems like this opinion sides with the first one, your satisfaction with your job is a personal choice, driven by how you chose to view your work, whereas your engagement is the attachment to the company you work for. Right?
I think they’re both emotional. How you feel about your job versus how you feel about the company you’re working for. However, this distinction doesn’t really help clarify things for me. So I went and found a third opinion.
3. Employee satisfaction = buy-in = commitment
According to this article, the two are identical. Employee satisfaction is just another way of quantifying the commitment/buy-in of that employee towards the company they work for. Also known as engagement.
This is where things get really blurry. The personal, selfish view of your job seems to overlap with the organizational component.
Where does that leave us?
Things are clearly not black and white. None of these explanations have managed to convince me of the difference or lack thereof between job satisfaction and employee engagement.
They did, however, leave me with an acceptable conclusion, that I’d be more than happy to discuss with those with far more experience than I have.
I think job satisfaction defines how happy you are with your job. The subjective, personal stand that you take in view of who you work for, where you work, what you do, how long your schedule is, the rewards and benefits you get etc. Bluntly put, the relationship between you and your job.
On the other hand, I see employee engagement as the relationship between you and your company. The commitment to the organization and its brand, in view of the fact that you work there.
I’m really curious to get your thoughts on this. What do you think, is employee engagement synonymous with job satisfaction?