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Employee Satisfaction is Not Employee Engagement

By Randy Hall

Many veterinary practices have been measuring employee satisfaction for years with the belief that satisfied employees are more engaged and do better work than unsatisfied ones.  While there are certainly some components of satisfaction that might lead to more engagement, when we focus on keeping our employees satisfied, we may not be keeping them engaged. 

Are your employees engaged, or are they simply satisfied?  The answer could affect your company’s ability to succeed.

What we call engagement is similar to the concept that Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined as flow.  It occurs when people are fully present, working at their best, committed to the success of what they are involved in, and using their knowledge, skill, and experience to make something positive happen.  People today often refer to this state as being “in the zone.” Employees can be fully satisfied and still be very far from this highly engaged state.

If our efforts are to satisfy people, our focus is on giving them what they want.  If we are working toward building an engaged practice team, our focus should be on giving them what they need.  According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow has several important components including clear goals, a sense of challenge, and direct and immediate feedback.  There are many times that we turn away from components like these as we work to keep employees satisfied.

Many companies pursue employee satisfaction by offering free lunch or coffee in the break room.  While this may satisfy a temporary want, these kinds of efforts do not lead to employee engagement.  On the other hand, most leaders struggle with delivering direct and immediate feedback and yet that is a component that is essential for employee engagement. 

Practice owners and managers focusing on satisfaction will work to make an employee’s job easier.  However, in order to contribute to engagement, we need to find the right level of challenge for our employees.  The work needs to be a bit of a stretch for them, but not so much that they don’t have some success. Employees are fully engaged when they are pushing themselves but still capable of winning.

Engagement comes when we are in a culture that expects and celebrates success, have a coach that helps us develop and learn, and have a connection to what we are doing and the difference we make.   Veterinary practices can still fail with satisfied employees. But, build a team of engaged employees and failure becomes highly unlikely. Only then, in fact, can you capture the full potential of your team and your practice.