Are happy employees engaged employees?

Posted in : HR Updates on 15 March 2018
Olga Pollock
firmus energy
Issues covered:

I have to admit, until recently I would have probably thought that employee engagement was the same as happiness at work. I have since learned however that they are not the same thing. While happiness and satisfaction is part of being engaged it is possible to be happy at work but not necessarily be contributing much. Some people are happy to come to work, get the day in and look forward to a pay cheque every month. On the other hand, engaged employees come to work because they want to, not because they have to. Engaged employees want to make a difference and they strive towards meeting a shared purpose and vision of the organisation.

So how then do we create an engaged workforce? Is it enough to send a survey out on an annual basis after showering employees with bonuses, benefits and fun events throughout the year? These may well serve a purpose, but they are merely interventions to promote engagement rather than taking the time to understand what motivates people. Effective leadership plays a key role here whereby managers communicate with their teams on a regular basis and everyone knows the part they play in helping the business to succeed.

The most effective leadership style is transformational. The transformational leader inspires their team through a shared vision. They are role models and ensure that the goals of the team are aligned to those of the organisation. They get to know their team members on an individual level. They talk to them to understand what makes them tick and what they like and dislike. They find out what motivates and demotivates each person and crucially, they take time to understand how they can help that individual perform to their potential.

The importance of working towards the bigger picture cannot be underestimated. Often team members are busy working towards their own goals and agendas without really understanding what they’re working towards or why. When managers explain the vision or purpose of their work this can help unite the team and build a team culture. The purpose should be worthwhile and inspiring so that people can easily buy into it.

Employee recognition is also important. When people do a good job; tell them. Make it sincere and timely. Don’t hold off until the annual appraisal when the impact will be lessened. Engaged employees need to know that they’re doing a good job. A laisse-faire management style may work for a while for highly skilled staff who are competent to get on with things however over time they may start to wonder, ‘what’s the point’ and look elsewhere. Managers should set aside time, on a monthly basis, to check in on progress and whether there is anything they need to support them. These conversations do not need to last long, but they should be a priority.

It is easy to talk of what makes an effective leader without taking account of the capacity of managers to actually live this out. Very often managers are ‘promoted from within’ based on technical skills and then suddenly they are expected to take on a new set of people management skills without prior experience or support. In reality, once people are promoted into leadership positions they should have a significant proportion of their responsibilities set aside to lead their teams rather than trying to do the same job on top of leading staff. Once managers have been given the right space and support to lead their people then they are well on their way to creating a happy and engaged workforce.

It is not all about leadership however. Culture is one of the biggest influences on employee engagement and whether people enjoy working together. The team should be united towards the same mission and have goals set on an individual basis to support this. Hiring on attitude will help ensure the dynamics of the team is right as new hires will share the same values. Appointing subject matter experts will help provide guidance to team members needing support. Decisions and team rules or codes of conducts are best agreed together rather than cascaded down through a directive approach.

So it is clear that engagement is not achieved through a one-size-fits-all approach however getting to know everyone on an individual level is key. While some would go as far as to argue that employee engagement doesn’t always equate to employee happiness there can be no dispute that happy employees are not necessarily engaged. Engagement is an intrinsic drive to succeed for the good of the organisation and effective leaders and culture are essential components in this. Furthermore, employers must ensure that their leaders are adequately supported to make engagement happen.

Useful Reading:

How to Retain Talent

Employee Engagement Doesn’t Equal Employee Happiness

The Difference Between Happiness and Engagement at Work


This article is correct at 15/03/2018

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Olga Pollock
firmus energy

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