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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Employee Satisfaction Doesn’t Matter

The employee engagement movement started in the late 1990s and then went full steam ahead in 2000. Organizations everywhere began systematically measuring employee engagement. That intense interest is now evolving into deeper thinking about company culture. Top leadership teams are seriously considering what kind of culture they want and need to win more customers.

A warning to those leaders: If you’re measuring the effectiveness of your culture by your workforce’s “satisfaction,” you’re doing it all wrong.

Fortune 1000 executives often come up to me and say, “Our company culture is robust -- our employees have an 85% satisfaction rate.” Good for you. You have ruined your workplace. Ask any employee, “What will satisfy you?” and the answer is easy: free lunches, more vacation time, latte machines --- and don’t forget a ping pong table.

Problem is, measuring workers' satisfaction or happiness levels is just not enough to retain star performers and build a successful business. You think giving more vacation time is great? Try this on: Engaged employees who took less than one week off from work in a year had 25% higher overall well-being than actively disengaged associates -- even those who took six weeks or more of vacation time.

Employees don’t want to be “satisfied” as much as they want to be engaged. What they want most is a great boss who cares about their development, and a company that focuses on and develops their strengths. Trying to satisfy employees’ appetites for free lunches, lattes, and ping pong tables is giving people something they don’t deeply want -- and that isn’t natural or good for them. What you’re doing is feeding the bears.

Let me explain. While at Yellowstone National Park several years ago, I noticed the famous sign that says, “Don’t Feed the Bears.” I asked the ranger if a lot of campers were getting mauled. “No,” he shot back, and then went on to explain that the sign isn’t for the protection of the campers -- but for the protection of the bears. Because once the bears taste a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, they quit digging for roots and catching deer. A kind gesture by a camper ruins the natural instincts and therefore the lives of these cool bears.

Most companies still feed their bears. And if you feed them well enough, national business magazines will even give you an award for it. Your bear-feeding culture will be recognized and celebrated worldwide.

But what is the right culture? More importantly: What is a winning culture?

A winning culture is one of engagement and individual contribution to an important mission and purpose. Human beings are not looking for company-bought goodies -- they are looking for meaningful, fulfilling work. It is the new great global dream -- to have a good job, not a free lunch. The dream is to have a job in which you work for a great manager; where you constantly develop; and where you can use your God-given strengths every single day.

Companies with winning cultures feed their employees’ deep-down need to develop and grow. They don’t feed the bears.


Ted Santos said...
June 5, 2014 at 11:47 AM  

Well said, Jim. Employees don't want to be bought. They want the satisfaction of being developed into the best. And that reward can't be bought. It can only be earned.

Anonymous said...
June 5, 2014 at 5:38 PM  

You imply that a great culture is about Engagement OR Satisfaction. Would the best organisations in the world not create a culture that includes Engagement AND Satisfaction? There is more evidence linking performance to engagement, but wouldn't being highly satisfied with your workplace be the icing on the cake?

Ann Heekin said...
June 7, 2014 at 12:04 PM  

The "engaged worker" philosophy is a place where faith and culture meet. The world's religious and philosophical traditions teach the connection of our life's work with a higher sense of purpose and meaning. This wisdom also suggests that our policy responses to unemployed must be both economic and existential in scope. The disengaged worker suffers both material loss and the diminishment of self. This has implications for the kind of persons we are and society we become.

Anonymous said...
June 10, 2014 at 6:31 AM  

Thats a good post - ESAT vs Employee Engagement. But this point about employees being more satisfied with free lunches / goodies doesnt really connect. There may be folks who are satisfied by that. But then at the end of the day isnt it your job or the work you do that provides the much needed satisfaction ??

Anonymous said...
June 11, 2014 at 4:10 PM  

If you teach a bear to prepared to wait until it stops dancing.....

Brian Koehn said...
June 16, 2014 at 4:45 PM  

The body and conclusion of the article contradicts the title? Was that for click bait purposes? It was a good read otherwise. I do feel however, that if you are going to openly criticize tactics, at least offer some alternatives rather than a vague suggestion.

Also, I feel that there is in fact something to be said for the lunches, vacation etc. That is not what the entire focus should be, and I don't think that any of the Fortune 1000 executives would agree that is what it is all about either. It's about a balanced offering of engagement and perks. I enjoy the perks and have even thought to myself, "it would be hard to leave this place." That is a successful piece of the engagement puzzle that my Fortune 100 employer has put together.

Scott Airitam said...
June 28, 2014 at 9:38 AM  

I'll agree that "buying" employee satisfaction is no good measure of management effectiveness or a healthy, productive culture. That point is spot on. But, but suggesting that employee satisfaction can only be gained that way is a bit deceiving. Employee satisfaction can be one measurement of the culture and you can get to it without buying employees. I think the real message in your story is that paying for "throwaway" perks to raise employee satisfaction is a useless endeavor. But, I think it is wrong to suggest that employee satisfaction is a useless endeavor.

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