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What is Employee Satisfaction?

Employee satisfaction or job satisfaction is, quite simply, how content or satisfied employees are with their jobs. Employee satisfaction is typically measured using an employee satisfaction survey. These surveys address topics such as compensation, workload, perceptions of management, flexibility, teamwork, resources, etc.

These things are all important to companies who want to keep their employees happy and reduce turnover, but employee satisfaction is only a part of the overall solution. In fact, for some organizations, satisfied employees are people the organization might be better off without.

Employee satisfaction and employee engagement are similar concepts on the surface, and many people use these terms interchangeably. Employee satisfaction covers the basic concerns and needs of employees. It is a good starting point, but it usually stops short of what really matters.
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Employee Satisfaction versus Employee Engagement

Consider the following definition of employee satisfaction:

Employee Satisfaction Definition:

Employee satisfaction is the extent to which employees are happy or content with their jobs and work environment.

Compare that with this definition of employee engagement.

Employee Engagement Definition:

Employee engagement is the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organization, and put discretionary effort into their work.

Passion, commitment, and most importantly, discretionary effort... Engaged employees are motivated to do more than the bare minimum needed in order to keep their jobs. By contrast, satisfied employees are merely happy or content with their jobs and the status quo. For some, this might involve doing as little work as possible.

Turnover vs. Unwanted Turnover

Some level of turnover is healthy for all companies. Employees who are not adding value or who are not a good fit for the company leave, making way for fresh new perspectives and new energy. We could call this healthy turnover. By contrast, unwanted turnover happens when a company loses talented employees that they want to keep.

Talented and motivated employees expect more from companies. For these employees, job satisfaction includes a different set of criteria. They want to be engaged and empowered. They want to be challenged and pushed. They want their work to have meaning. They want personal and professional development opportunities so they can grow and advance their careers.

The problem with employee satisfaction is that it does not focus on the things that are important to your most talented staff. A happy or content employee might be quite satisfied with a job that requires very little effort. This employee might be perfectly content doing the bare minimum required to keep his or her job. These employees are likely "very satisfied" with their jobs. They are unlikely to leave the company, but they are not necessarily adding value.

As a company, if you focus on increasing the wrong kind of employee satisfaction, you risk entrenching those employees who are adding the least value while driving your most talented employees out.

See also: What is employee engagement?

Satisfaction and Engagement Semantics

Many people use the terms "satisfaction" and "engagement" to refer to not just the basic core needs of job satisfaction, but also the added meaning, motivation, and commitment of "engagement". There is nothing wrong with that. As long as your company is measuring and striving for the elements that we include in our definition of engagement, it really does not matter what you call it.

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