Satisfaction at Work Is Not Enough


Workplace satisfaction, a measure that assesses employees’ perception that their needs are met at work, is an incomplete measure.

For years organizations have sought to find answers to their employee satisfaction questions in the now ubiquitous assessment. I conclude that the answers have been elusive or short lived given the current state of our workplaces. In a loud, collective annoyed voice, employees are shouting that the workplace is intolerable. Recent research from Gallup revealed that 70% of employees are not reaching their potential. That’s unacceptable.

Employees are shouting that the workplace is intolerable

Workplace satisfaction is an incomplete measure because it measures only part of the equation to satisfaction – work. Organizations need to begin to understand how employees’ satisfaction with their personal lives influences them professionally. What’s more, how satisfied are employees with their life’s aspirations? And what about their satisfaction with the altruistic dimension of business – helping to improve a customer’s life or filling a need?

Organizations need to begin to understand how employees’ satisfaction with their personal lives influences them professionally

A complete view of employee satisfaction has two dimensions:

  • Are needs meet at work?
  • How does the degree of fulfillment with one’s personal life influence employees professionally?

The old-school manager is squirming in his chair, “Why do I care about my employees’ personal lives?” The days when we asked employees to check their personality at the door along with their personal life have passed. The two are inextricably united. They always have been.

We need more managers to understand how to leverage the two dimensions of satisfaction. Why? We need to improve the work environment so that employees can contribute their best work to meet organizational, customer, and employee needs. Outcomes in these three areas are essential to competing in today’s marketplace.

The days when we asked employees to check their personality at the door along with their personal life have passed

A Realistic Look at Satisfaction

The two dimensions of satisfaction I’m advocating is a paradigm shift for most. Bluntly, managers do need to understand how to motivate and inspire employees to find work satisfaction no matter what is happening in their personal or professional life.

Strong managers who are willing to lead the way understand how to connect employees to resources to address personal life issues. As an example, Inc. Magazine recently highlighted how Whole Foods sets aside $100,000 annually to help employees “address personal struggles.”

Managers need to be willing to help employees resolve personal struggles

Our personal lives influence us professionally and vice versa. The “heirloom beliefs,” a phrase Gary Hamel uses to describe outdated thinking, are interfering with managers’ abilities to see that today’s realities cannot always be managed with yesterday’s actions.

Employee Role in Satisfaction

Certainly there are two sides to this arrangement.

It is management’s responsibility to create an environment where both sides of satisfaction can flourish. It is, however, up to the employee to recognize how life influences their performance – for the good or the bad – and then do something about it. Also, employees need to understand that the manager’s responsibility is to do what is in her control or influence to help employees reach their peak performance.

It is management’s responsibility to create an environment where both sides of satisfaction can flourish

Moving Forward to a Broadened Understanding of Satisfaction

For those who study workplace effectiveness, I know that I’m beginning to blur the lines between satisfaction and engagement. What’s important, however, is that management takes action to transform the dismal state of our workplaces. The first move is management’s.

If more managers fail to act locally, improving the work environment for their teams, employee satisfaction will not improve. Employees will leave, or worse stay and underperform. The latter is already a problem as I stated earlier in this article.

Organizations cannot afford to lose talent when a full on war for talent is already waging across organizations. The war for talent is heating up and smart leaders are positioning themselves, and hopefully their organization, to find ways to keep and attract top talent.

An important tactic in this human era of business is to graduate to a more enlightened understanding of what influences satisfaction. Measure both dimensions. Report the results and involve employees to identify solutions to improve or strengthen satisfaction.

Image credit: mike301 / 123RF Stock Photo

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of Switch and Shift. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

  • Maybe we should move forward from satisfaction to experience. Satisfaction probably measures mostly intangibles. Experience can be more explicit about the performance of the organization in motivating staff to work healthy, hard, smart, etc. In turn, the staff can tell the organization what they plan to do contribute.

  • Dr. Janice Presser

    From a scientific perspective, you need to start by measuring the capacity for satisfaction, which looks an awful lot like engageability. This is context-sensitive, so you won’t get it with typical scales or the kind of surveys where you ask straight out, how satisfied are you. (This is true equally for personal and professional life, if indeed yours are truly separate.) Then you can look at the question of do you have the right externals in place to keep people satisfied, engaged, and productive.

    In general (unless they report to an ogre) people are much more satisfied, engaged, and productive when the work they are doing aligns with the way in which they want to contribute to a group effort and when they have at least one person whose preferred mode of contribution complements theirs. (In Teamabiity® language, your preferred mode is your Role and the other person is your Role partner.) This person may be what you consider a friend, but that is not the source of work satisfaction. Your Role partner makes it possible for you to create more together than the two of you ever could create alone, aka synergy. Nothing like that to feel satisfied, engaged, and even, on occasion, totally exhilarated!

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