Engaged employees aren’t just happier ones

It’s time to acknowledge the difference between employee engagement and happiness

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This guy is most definitely happy, but is he engaged (we may never know)?

Happiness is subjective. What makes one person fulfilled at work won’t be the same for another.

We all know co-workers happy to coast rather than climb the ranks, or who leave on the dot to finish the novel they’re writing on the side.

We know many who revel in the stability of being salaried rather than having entrepreneurial aspirations.

Equally, there are many for whom a package of workplace perks is enough to bring joy. (And, in my mind, it’s a fairly miserable person who wouldn’t get a thrill from free handfuls of peanut butter M&Ms and pomegranate-flavoured water.)

For others, happiness is climbing the corporate ladder two rungs at a time, incremental pay rises or, simply, managerial praise and respect from peers.

Or it’s taking advantage of flexible working practices and unlimited annual leave to skip the commute and spend more time at home with family.

Whatever the motivation, it’s widely accepted by employers that a happy team is a productive team.

One recent study showed that happiness in the workplace led to a 12% spike in productivity, while unhappy workers were 10% less productive, found economists at the University of Warwick.

Good managers know their staff, and understand what happiness is to the individuals who work for them.

But employers shouldn’t confuse happiness with employee engagement.

Think of all those people you see on LinkedIn and Instagram who proudly post photos of their workplaces, wax lyrical about the canteen food, wildly cheer when their boss is on stage at a live-streamed event, and brazenly tag their own CEO in updates.

They request 360 appraisals and share their thoughts and ideas with the whole team on a weekly basis. They organise in-office flash mobs and get whole departments mixing socially.

While eating handfuls of M&Ms and drinking the Kool-Aid, they buy (heart and soul) into the business’s core values, and they demonstrate an emotional connection to their workplaces.

Possibly unwittingly, they become brand ambassadors. Through various verbal and online communication channels, engaged employees show the outside world the business promotes a culture of openness.

We come to understand that company trusts its team to fairly and accurately represent its brand on social media, without approval from the head of comms or sign off by a manager.

Engagement has incredible power and value to businesses. It impacts output, retention, recruitment, absenteeism, productivity, customer satisfaction and turnover, as documented in Gallup’s State of the American Workforce Report (2017).

The report states: “Business or work units that score in the top quartile of their organization in employee engagement have nearly double the odds of success (based on a composite of financial, customer, retention, safety, quality, shrinkage and absenteeism metrics) when compared with those in the bottom quartile.” 

It’s why LinkedIn continues to host its popular annual Bring In Your Parents day, and hosts a fortnightly ‘All Hands’ meeting where the staff are brought up to speed on the state of the business. 

It’s why Google has an entire department called ‘People Operations’ dedicated to “staffing, development, and a distinct and inclusive culture”.

And it’s why our clients at Claromentis are demanding tech tools that engage every person in their business.

The first step towards engaging employees is understanding that engagement goes far beyond happiness.

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