People often assume happy employees are also engaged. But is that really a safe bet? Sometimes with the best intentions to improve happiness in the short term, leaders make decisions that hurt their business in the long term. And when a business suffers, its people do, too. So, what can you do to achieve better outcomes? Recognize that while both employee engagement and happiness matter, engagement should be your priority. Here’s why…
The Pursuit of Happiness Engagement
Naturally, we want employees to be happy. (Employees want the same thing.) But it’s important to understand that employee happiness is a fairly consistent outcome of engagement — not the other way around.
This relationship is easy to prove. We’ve all had an employee or colleague who unfortunately was fired for continually underperforming, despite seeming happy and “engaged.” Of course, job fulfillment and engagement are directly correlated. But the trouble comes when we conflate these two concepts.
For a healthy business and happy employees, it’s important to focus first on engagement. Happiness will follow. And knowing how to measure both is the key.
Engagement, Meet Happiness
Employee engagement is radically different from happiness. It’s also significantly more complex. Think of engagement as the degree to which an individual is connected to, identifies with, and supports their organization. Note that this definition says nothing about employee satisfaction. Rather than being motivated by perks or extrinsic rewards, truly engaged employees are genuinely interested in their company’s success. They are invested and they want to see it thrive.
Beneath the surface of engaged employees, you’ll often find a “noble cause” that aligns with the company’s mission and surpasses personal satisfaction. Through this commitment, employees gain a sense of ownership, accomplishment, and pride — the stuff of happiness.
Engaged employees directly contribute to overall business success in small and big ways. As a result of their collective efforts, the organization grows, new challenges and opportunities materialize, and the wheel of engagement keeps turning.
However, maintaining this flywheel’s momentum can be tricky. Effective leaders enhance the employee experience by providing variety, opportunities for growth, and a sense of direction. These are all great ways to steer engagement (as well as happiness).
But how do you know when people need more? How can you tell when engagement is at risk? If you focus first on measuring happiness, you’ll lose the forest for the trees. Instead, you need to consider both happiness and engagement, separately.
Measurement: Mind the (Survey) Trap
HR knows how to answer big questions with employee surveys. But you’ll want to avoid becoming overly dependent on surveys. That’s because they provide very limited insights, and the strength of the data is largely relative to the strength of the survey instrument.
Determining levels of engagement requires a detailed examination of multiple trends and factors. So for best results, you’ll want to go beyond questionnaires when measuring employee engagement or happiness.
As you dig deeper, here are several useful indicators to consider:
1. Interpersonal Relationships
Leaders, do you encourage staff members to foster friendships? It’s widely recognized that strong workplace connections encourage teamwork and cohesion. In fact, 80% of people with close friends at work say they feel a strong sense of belonging to their organization. And 76% say friendships make them more likely to remain with their employer.
To understand the influence of relationships in your organization, develop metrics that answer questions like these:
- How many friends or positive work relationships do your employees have, on average?
- What proportion of people in your organization feel they have a reliable mentor?
2. Voluntary Overtime
Every organization has its share of people who get by with a bare minimum of effort. And in recent years, this behavior has been on the rise. Now, according to Gallup, “quiet quitters” represent at least 50% of the U.S. workforce.
Meanwhile on the other side of the coin, what about those who are willing to go “above and beyond” or proactively dedicate extra time to get work done? It’s safe to assume these employees are highly engaged. But too much discretionary effort can lead to burnout and unhappiness.
- How often do employees contribute extra time and effort?
It’s vital to keep an eye on both ends of this effort/engagement spectrum. The key is to measure individually and often. Then be prepared to talk with employees about unusual changes in their behavior, and their comfort with self-imposed increased workloads.
If employees give themselves the time and space to collaborate only when leaders or clients require it, your organization is likely to be lacking in engagement.
No business wants to force unnecessary meetings on people. That’s a costly move, and it’s only likely to promote disengagement. On the other hand, informal and formal group conversations are vital to help team members align and move forward successfully.
- How often are employees or teams scheduling meetings to share ideas, brainstorm, or plan their work?
A good indicator of engagement is to gauge how often people willingly make an effort to get together on a casual basis or for work-related reasons.
What About Happiness?
Happiness is much simpler to measure than engagement. This is where a good standalone survey can be effective. Strive for a survey cadence that is frequent enough to achieve at least 50% participation. Weekly, if your survey is short — three questions or less. Biweekly or monthly, if the question set is longer.
Try asking people how they feel by focusing on real-world emotions with questions like these:
- At the end of the workday, do you feel completely drained, or do you have the energy to relax and enjoy yourself?
- Are there any day-to-day tasks you dread, or that you think we could help simplify or improve?
- What do you find most rewarding about your role?
Thoughtful, personalized questions lead to useful insights. When employees recognize that you care about them and are genuinely interested in their happiness, they’ll help you understand what you can do to improve their experience.
Get Happy Engaged
If your organization faces issues like poor productivity, high turnover, or negative company culture, don’t try to fix it by emphasizing employee happiness. Instead, invest primarily in engagement. Happiness will follow.
Start by recognizing the difference between these two key dimensions of work life. Then think outside the box to measure both effectively. Don’t rely on old, templated engagement survey tools — or focus on satisfaction metrics alone. Instead, invest in developing and implementing a thoughtful strategy that measures both engagement and happiness.
Then, by evaluating engagement and happiness on an ongoing basis, you’ll be prepared to proactively detect and address workforce issues that influence overall business performance.