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What is Employee Satisfaction?

What is Employee Satisfaction?

Perfect for a 6 minute break  •  Written by 
Avatar picture of Camilla Brambilla Pisoni

How often did you have a hard-working, dedicated, and conscientious employee quit on you without any warning? Satisfaction is a difficult metric that often gets tangled up with engagement. The truth is — 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.

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, and they grew resentful, found a better job, and left…leaving you scrambling as you tried to find and train their replacement (and costing the company tens of thousands in the process).

Satisfaction is a difficult metric that often gets tangled up with engagement. The truth is — 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.

What is employee satisfaction?

A rather simplistic (but valuable) definition of employee satisfaction says that

“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 compensation, benefits, work-life balance, job conditions, and support and recognition. That’s because they are either monetary (or can be assigned monetary value), or they are so central to employee wellbeing that they cannot be ignored (for example, getting time off or working in a safe environment).

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. Two things need to be kept in mind here: always position competitively against similar companies, and pay enough to feel they can have an above-average quality of life.

  • Benefits — forget about free monthly Kindle e-book editions or paid training when thinking about satisfaction; they’re an excellent way to boost employee engagement but if you want your employees to be satisfied, focus on benefits that have a clear monetary value attached to them instead — childcare support, paid time off, 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, you should still make sure that they have a good work-life balance to avoid burnout.

  • Job conditions — people want to feel safe at their workplace, both 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, 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.

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

What is Employee Satisfaction-06

But, this also means that satisfied employees don’t have to be engaged employees. Of course, ‘satisfied’ is preferred to ‘dissatisfied’, 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. That difference is usually the difference between your company just plodding along (with a 0.5% YoY ROI) 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 #1 priority when building an engaged workforce is to make sure that 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 connecting your company’s values to those of your employees. 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.
  • 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, and when you trust employees to make the right decision for the company.
  • Growth opportunities — investing in your employees further builds trust, signaling 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.

3 effective ways to increase both employee satisfaction and 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 in control. Relinquish some of the control afforded to you by your managerial position by encouraging employees to organize their work schedules when possible or choose a day when they work from home.
  • Reduce stress — some 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.
  • Create an atmosphere of 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 engagement machine. Without it, you won’t be able to sustain employee engagement in the long run, and you’ll see your turnover go up, and productivity go down.

On the other hand, make sure that your employees are satisfied, add and tweak a few extra elements, and presto! — you have truly engaged and dedicated employees.


To get here, you need a system that helps you identify dissatisfied and unhappy employees. Ambassify’s pulse survey feature can help with that, allowing you to fire off short, frequent, and anonymous surveys that will give you the sense of employee satisfaction in your company (and which specific areas need to be worked on).

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.