The difference between employee happiness and employee engagement
A hot topic for HR and Business chats lately, the difference between engagement and happiness has stirred up many opinions. Through our extensive research and data analysis on the matter, we’ve come to the conclusion that the two are in fact different and that they come together to form workplace happiness.

Two halves of the same apple

Both employee engagement and employee happiness have the same outcome – a happy and productive workplace. Now here’s where the two differ:

Employee happiness is mainly controlled by the employee

Employee happiness is an intrinsic state of being. Only you can make yourself happy or unhappy, in response to different stimuli. It’s how you choose to reply to those stimuli. That’s why, as Abraham Lincoln puts it, you’re only as happy as you allow yourself to be.

There are those who would now argue that in certain life situations there’s no choosing involved. An event devastated your existence and therefor you are unhappy. Partially true. That event did happen and it has the power to rend you utterly unhappy, if you allow it.

It takes a strong degree of self-awareness and self-control to be able to control your reaction but that’s how your brain works. You will still experience strong negative or consuming emotions but the final outcome of the experience and how you deal with it decides your happiness.

Employee engagement is largely controlled by the employer

Every company has or should have an HR manager responsible for engaging employees towards a satisfying work experience and a productive activity that drives revenues. To that end, the company will recruit the right people, manage their expectations and own up to their promises by providing the employee with whatever he/she needs in order to do their best.

I was going to mention this later but I feel like now is the time when many of the readers will think “Ok, an HR manager can ensure only so much, what about an employee who’s simply not doing their best, slacking and promoting a general negative feeling? How do you control that behavior?” It’s a valid question. I think this is an exception but it touches on a good point: an unhappy employee may not respond to that well-crafted engagement strategy.

Q.E.D: The two concepts are intrinsically linked. One depends on the other and together they determine workplace happiness.

The apple is not black and white

There are hundreds of numbers in many long, thoroughly documented reports that try to synthesize the most practical and concrete side of both employee happiness and employee engagement.

Data helps us understand, measure and predict effective HR strategies that engage and retain talent. But it will never be able to remove the ambiguity between the two concepts and the way they interact. It’s precisely why I chose to state that “Employee happiness is mainly controlled by the employee” and that “Employee engagement is largely controlled by the employer.”

We’re dealing with the human mind. Up to this date, it has not revealed all its complex ways of working for us to state 100% accurately why an employee feels a certain way about their job. All we can do is collect and interpret data and combine it with human behavioral sciences that can shed more light as to the “why” and “how”.

Some companies misunderstand employee engagement for what they think of the company they work for. As Stacey Ashley, founder and director of Ashley Coaching & Consulting, keenly noticed:

“Traditional engagement tends to be quite organisationally focused.”


Actually, employee engagement is more about how they feel about their work experience, rather than what they think of it. That’s why sometimes it’s very hard to distinguish between engagement and happiness.

When we first started Hppy it wasn’t about implementing a brilliant employee engagement strategy. It was about people and wanting to know how our team felt. Were they happy with their work, the environment, the management team? Hppy offered this unique opportunity to gauge our happiness levels at work and connect with every employee. We started getting more honest, accurate feedback and we knew how people felt and why.

You can’t really design and implement an employee engagement strategy if you don’t know where you currently stand. Such a strategy should be built on the specific needs and desires of your team, not on general data about worldwide engagement levels.

Let’s keep this conversation going! What’s your take on the difference between the difference between employee happiness and employee engagement?

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