What is Employee Satisfaction?

Perfect for a 8 minute break •  Written by 
Avatar picture of Camilla Brambilla Pisoni

Employee satisfaction is not the same as employee engagement, but they are connected. What causes poor employee satisfaction? And what can remedy it? How do I nurture an engaged and trusted workforce? In this article, you'll learn how minor managerial tweaks can help you grow a satisfied and engaged team!

How often did you have a hard-working, dedicated, and conscientious employee quit on you without any warning? Probably not too often, but often enough, right? And it still baffles you when it happens.

Most of the time, these employees don’t give a concrete reason for leaving, but in nearly 50% of the cases, it can be traced back to one thing — poor employee satisfaction.

These employees might have been hard-working and engaged. Still, something fundamental was missing. The risk when something like this happens is that the employee will then grow resentful, find a better job, and leave. And you'll find yourself scrambling to find and train their replacement —  which will then cost the company tens of thousands in the process.

Satisfaction is a difficult metric that often gets tangled up with engagement. The truth is — seemingly engaged employees can still be dissatisfied, and you have a narrow window of opportunity to turn that around and get them to stay and grow with the company.

Employee satisfaction: a definition

A rather simplistic (but valuable) definition of employee satisfaction goes as follows:

Employee satisfaction is an expression of how content an employee is within their role — and how easy it is for them NOT to look for another (maybe better) job because the current one they’re in meets their basic needs.

The factors that we look at when examining employee satisfaction are many, and they include primarily compensation, benefits, work-life balance, job conditions, and support and recognition. These are so central to employee well-being that they cannot be ignored — for example, getting time off or working in a safe environment. Coincidentally enough, these are many of the crucial factors that come into play when it comes to employee retention.

Let’s examine them more closely:

  • Compensation. You can forget about high employee satisfaction if you’re underpaying your employees. 
    People generally don’t feel satisfied or happy if their basic needs are not met, and there's no use in denying that a dignified, proportionate, and competitive salary is one of those basic needs. The rule of thumb when settling on the final wage for a specific role is to position yourself competitively in comparison with your competitors and make sure your employees can still enjoy an at least slightly above-average lifestyle.

  • Benefits. Now, when we talk about benefits, we're not necessarily talking about a free monthly newspaper subscription or paid professional training. They’re an excellent way to boost employee engagement, granted, but they are not exactly the kind of attractive benefit an employee would need. 
    Rather, focus on those kinds of benefits that have a clear monetary value attached to them instead, such as childcare support, paid time off, maternity, paternity & breastfeeding leave, and comprehensive healthcare plans.

  • Work-life balance. Most people work to live, and not the other way around. Even if your employees are keen and committed overachievers, as an employer, you cannot expect them to work as hard and as much as you. Not only that, but it is also your responsibility to make sure that they are keeping and living a good work-life balance to avoid burnout.

  • Job conditions. People want to feel safe at work. They want to know that their employer and the internal hierarchy of the company keep them safe from physical danger and mental or emotional abuse from superiors or colleagues. 
    Again, we’re talking about a pretty basic but fundamental need here — if people feel in peril, threatened, or harassed, no amount of money or perks will be able to compensate for that entirely.

  • Recognition. Employees need to see that their efforts are being recognized and appreciated by their peers and bosses. This factor impacts both employee satisfaction and employee engagement, and a small effort can really go a long way here. If you're looking for some inspiration on how to show appreciation or recognition to your employees, here deep-dive into employee rewards and how to show appreciation to your workforce.

Job satisfaction is, effectively, a foundation on which long-term employee engagement can be successfully built. Here’s what employee satisfaction and employee engagement look like when compared to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

defining factors of employee satisfaction

This also means that satisfied employees don’t have to be engaged employees. Of course, ‘satisfied’ is always better than ‘dissatisfied’ — as the second will almost always lead to an employee seeking to leave the company and eventually doing so — but satisfaction should not be your end goal. Your organizational goal should always be high employee engagement.

There’s a stark difference between having just satisfied employees and having happy and engaged employees. The lack of engaged employees usually makes the difference between your company just plodding along and your company being transformed into the leader of the pack in your industry.

Employee satisfaction vs. employee engagement

Employee satisfaction and engagement are essential, but proper attention breeds the kind of employees that every company would love to have. However, you can’t sustain long-term engagement if your employees are fundamentally unsatisfied, so your number one priority when building an engaged workforce is to make sure that your people like their job, are adequately compensated for it, and feel safe and appreciated while doing it.

Only then you can work on those factors that build actual engagement:

  • A sense of belonging. The first brick on the road to high employee engagement is making sure your employees feel connected and sling with your company’s values. If your company cares about the same things as your employees — has the same ‘why’ and communicates it well — it encourages people to consistently put in more effort to contribute to its goals. And an engaged employee will even be proud of sharing content and news about the company on social media.

  • A sense of ownership. Employees feel that they have a stake in the company only when the lines of communication are open and flowing. That happens when you trust employees with company information and don’t hold things back, when you are transparent about your goals and your intentions, and when you trust employees to make the right decision for the company.

  • Growth opportunities. Investing in your employees further builds trust, showing that you recognize their potential. Paid courses and training events are often better retention and engagement incentives than even the most extravagant compensation and benefits plans.

How to increase employee satisfaction & engagement

Most traditional managers tend to do the worst possible thing when confronted with diminishing employee satisfaction and engagement — they do nothing at all.

This is because they feel that turning the tide would require complex institutional changes that are beyond their grasp. 

And while it’s true that sometimes company values need to change, there are still minor tweaks you can make if you’re an HR manager or a department head to ensure that your employees are motivated and productive.

  • Let go of control. People are generally happier when they feel they have control — and ownership —  over their work, and when they aren't being micro-managed. 
    Relinquish some of the control that comes with your managerial position and encourage employees to organize their work schedules instead or choose a day when they work from home.

  • Reduce stress. Some — or better said, most — jobs are stressful in and of themselves, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do something about it. Poor mental health impacts satisfaction and engagement, and undue stress is a significant contributor. 
    Do your best to reduce commuting stress by staggering arrival times, adjusting your late arrival policies, and having flexible telecommuting policies.

  • Foster growth. This doesn’t mean just providing education and training opportunities (although it’s a big part). It also means acknowledging when employees meet and exceed specific benchmarks and celebrating their successes.

Fine-tune employee satisfaction and drive engagement

Employee satisfaction is a vital cog in the employee engagement machine. Without it, you won’t be able to sustain employee engagement in the long run, and you run the risk of seeing turnover go up and productivity down.

Contrarily, if you make sure your employees are satisfied, add and tweak a few extra elements, you'll quickly have truly engaged and dedicated employees willing to help you grow as a company.

To get here, you need a system that helps you identify dissatisfied and unhappy employees. Ambassify’s feedback-gathering features can help with that: you'll be able to fire off short, frequent, and anonymous surveys and polls that will give you the sense of employee satisfaction in your company — and which specific areas need to be worked on — and where your employees stand with regard to your values and objective.

Once your overall employee satisfaction is at reasonable levels, you can focus on building a dynamic network of employees through targeted engagement and advocacy campaigns.

If you're quite interested to know more, but aren't ready to commit to a 1-on-1 demo with Ambassify, then join our weekly group demo!

In only 15 minutes, you could be discovering the greatest opportunity to level up your organization.