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The difference between satisfied, engaged, aligned, and highly engaged employees

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The difference between satisfied, engaged, aligned, and highly engaged employees

Let’s get one thing clear – we do not want satisfied employees. We want employees to always be pushing the boundaries and striving for the next level

Don’t settle for employee satisfaction. Push for highly aligned and engaged employees who are themselves pushing your company forward.

Let’s get one thing clear – we do not want satisfied employees. “Satisfied” implies sated, content. Do we want employees to be content with the current state? No. We want employees to always be pushing the boundaries and striving for the next level.

That’s why I get annoyed when people use the words “satisfied” and “engaged” interchangeably when talking about employees (as in this recent Talent Management article). Engaged employees are very different from satisfied employees. Indeed, Timothy Clark outlines these differences extensively in his book The Employee Engagement Mindset. In TLNT recently he highlighted in particular 5 Ways Engaged Employees Are Different (quoting):

  1. Highly engaged employees take primary responsibility for their own engagement.
  2. Highly engaged employees feel the least entitled.
  3. Highly engaged employees engage customers.
  4. Highly engaged employees remain highly engaged almost anywhere.
  5. Highly engaged employees apply six behavioral drivers. Individuals who take personal and primary responsibility for their own engagement consistently apply six behavioral drivers: connecting, shaping, learning, stretching, achieving, and contributing.

In other words, highly engaged employee sustain their own engagement. I would argue “satisfied” employees are constantly looking for others to fulfill their requirements for satisfaction.

Engagement vs. Alignment

I would add one additional hallmark of highly engaged employees to Mr. Clark’s list: Highly engaged employees align their efforts with the company mission, vision and values.

To me, a hallmark of truly engaged employees is their ability and willingness to give additional discretionary effort on projects or objectives that are meaningful and important to the organization. It’s that last point that is a critical link.

George Labovitz and Victor Rosansky, authors of Rapid Realignment, see alignment and engagement as two different things entirely, as they explained in this guest post about their book on Dan McCarthy’s Great Leadership blog:

“Engaged and aligned are two different things, and they don’t always travel together. Research by the Corporate Executive Board has found that 40 percent of “engaged” employees do not align their behavior with organizational goals. Overall, it concludes that only one in 10 employees is both engaged and aligned with strategy. Clearly, many managers are failing to connect people with the strategies they are emotionally prepared to support with their daily work. This represents a huge lost opportunity.”

How do connect employees with organizational strategies (many of which shifted thanks to the recession)? You help them understand what those strategies look like in each employee’s daily work.

In other words, you make enterprise-wide strategy goals real at the local job level. And you do that by frequent, timely and specific reinforcement of employees who align their efforts with strategic objectives. Social recognition is the most powerful way to accomplish this, as you not only reinforce that message for a particular employee, but you also empower others to see that message and add their own messages of congratulations and understanding of how those contributions made a difference.

Are your employees satisfied, engaged, aligned, or highly engaged and aligned?

About the Author

Derek is Vice President, Client Strategy & Consulting Services, at Globoforce, the world’s only provider of truly global, strategic employee recognition and reward programs. Their management team blogs regularly on Globoforce news, products, customers, and industry insights at the Globoforce Blog.

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Derek Irvine

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