Higher Employee Satisfaction Doesn’t Always Mean Better Performance, Here’s Why

Higher Employee Satisfaction Doesn’t Always Mean Better Performance, Here’s Why

Speaking of employee satisfaction, a new investigation revealed that lazy people in 42% of companies feel they are the most satisfied employees. No kidding, lazy employees don’t know they’re lazy. Sadly, they believe they are better than all the others.

The people we think are happy with their work are perhaps not our greatest performers. Can we say that employee satisfaction is not always synonymous with strong engagement?

Employee Satisfaction and Employee Engagement Differ

We need to realize that satisfaction is not the same as high performance or commitment. If our poor performers are also happy employees, then “employee satisfaction” might not help our business to meet its goals.

Why is employee satisfaction important when we know it can be a paradox? Satisfaction is a precondition for commitment. Employees who do not have their needs satisfied can only commit when their fundamentals are fulfilled. This makes employee satisfaction important.

At first glance, employee satisfaction and engagement are similar concepts, and many use them interchangeably. But they measure different results. Here’s how to figure out the differences.

  • Employee satisfaction generally refers to their overall well-being and happiness about their career, salaries, benefits, working conditions, and job security.
  • Employee engagement means their level of involvement, commitment, and investment in their work and motivation to help make their company successful.
  • An employee can feel satisfied with a job without being committed. 
  • Employee engagement extends far beyond compensation.
  • While satisfaction is generally enough to keep people employed, more is needed to ensure productivity.
  • Employee satisfaction addresses troubles and needs at work. A good place to start, but it sometimes fails at what matters. 
  • Happy employees feel satisfied, but engaged employees commit daily to doing their best and helping their company succeed.

At the end of the day, understanding the difference is critical for an organization to make future strategic decisions.

Employee Satisfaction Should Be in Line with Business Needs

Just because employee satisfaction is not the only measure doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do about it. Increasing employee satisfaction is needed, but there should be a paradigm shift.

Based on HBR’s “Balancing the Company’s Needs and Employee Satisfaction,” here are the three key points of the change:

1. From personal happiness to a common goal.

Many of us may put much focus on how to increase employee satisfaction. We often forget that our biggest contribution is strengthening the sense of belonging of our team.

As they can link their purpose with the common mission, it supports them. With a focused mission culture, our employees can use the company’s platform to fulfill their aspirations and passions.

We can encourage our people to consider their values and what motivates them. Then we provide resources to help them align their objectives with the company’s mission.

2. From benefits to ownership. 

Many companies have offered free snacks, ping pong, or daycares to upkeep their employees. It can improve people’s happiness but only does little to increase employee engagement.

Along with the benefits, we can prioritize the creation of inclusive work environments. We can give them autonomy in making decisions, especially those directly impacting their work. The goal is to open a door, allowing them to do their best.

3. From promotion to exposure.

Promotions can increase employees’ sense of accomplishment and recognition, leading to greater motivation and job satisfaction. But beyond that, why not expose our juniors so they can get noticed and learn from the seniors above them? It will help smooth their careers as they gain experience from experienced people.

For example, we can invite junior staff to senior-level meetings. This way, the two can meet and learn from each other’s perspectives and contributions. It also expands learning opportunities for low-level talent and closes the gap between upper and lower levels.

In conclusion, it is about handing over satisfaction to engagement. Finally, as Gallup said, highly engaged employees and teams increase the company’s profitability by more than 20%. Isn’t that a great deal, managers?


Let’s close the discussion by quoting Simon Sinek in Leaders Eat Last: “When people get invested financially, they want a return. When people are emotionally engaged, they want to be part of it.” So, employee satisfaction is a great way to begin, and engagement will enable us to work more on what counts.