In my last post, I looked at the recent findings of The Conference Board on dramatically falling job satisfaction rates as compared to 20 years ago. But several other reports also show employee engagement rates remaining stable or even increasing during this recession. How is that possible?

This highlights the fundamental difference between satisfaction and engagement. Satisfaction only measures, quite literally, how satisfied people are with the conditions of their work agreement – pay, environment, management, etc. Engagement, however, attempts to measure how involved in their work and organisation people are such that they understand the greater goals and objectives and are willing to give additional discretionary effort to achieve those ends. “I’m happy with the amount I get paid to do X.” vs. “I’m excited about seeing X get done and will make that happen.”

Look at excerpts from these three reports:

Gallup: “Gallup has tracked the engagement levels of the U.S. working population for the past decade. Its most recent employee engagement research shows that 28% of American workers are engaged, 54% are not engaged, and 18% are actively disengaged. Throughout the decade, the percentage of engaged employees ranged from 26% to 30%, whilst the percentage of actively disengaged employees ranged from 15% to 20%.”

Modern Survey: “Modern Survey’s measurement of the U.S. workforce shows that employee engagement has risen steadily during the last twelve months. The level of employee engagement recorded in late August is now back to where it was in August of 2007 (before the recession became apparent), following a precipitous decline from August 2007 to August 2008.”

Hewitt Associate: (Study of best companies to work for members): “The study also revealed that average employee engagement across all study participants is higher than it was a year ago – 69% versus 65%.”

An important caveat of the above findings is the acknowledgment that, as the economy improves, employees who express engagement now may still look for greener pastures when opportunities increase. Those companies who have a reputation as “best to work for” will have a better chance of retaining employees.

A final point from the Gallup study: whilst many indicators of their Q12 were found to drop, one factor did increase significantly: recognition and praise. As the report says: “If a company’s financial situation precludes things like development training or job role changes, managers can still perform a crucial function: recognition and praising employees for hard work and quality productivity.”

Yes, indeed.

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