Is employee happiness the same as employee engagement?

Is employee happiness the same as employee engagement?

We're taking a look at the differences between happy and engaged employees and  how you can create a positive workplace culture. So, just how happy are your employees? Interesting question. What goes on out of an office can certainly impact what goes on within it...

Unless you have some weird super human powers that go way beyond your HR duties, you won’t be able to influence employee matters of a romantic or familial nature. Not that this will come as any surprise to you.

Employee happiness is largely out of our control. Isn’t it?

Short of interrogating staff about their weekend plans, it’s always best to sidestep any venture into matters of a personal nature. But if your employee’s work is becoming affected in some way, leading to a lack of motivation, a poor attitude or even absenteeism, you might want to look a bit closer to home. 

Sodexo’s ‘Move, Mould, Motivate: An Essential Guide to Employee Engagement’ study, states that the UK is facing a major productivity crisis with workplace stress on the up.

People are putting in the hours, but something is missing.

Employee output isn’t measuring up. It’s a signal that organisations need to look closely at how they’re attracting, motivating and retaining top talent.

So how can you keep your employees happy and engaged? And is it the same thing?

Happy or engaged - why not both?

Employee happiness is very important. And more often than not, people view employee happiness and engagement as the same thing. Yet just because you’re happy, it doesn’t necessarily make you a better, more productive worker, does it? 

Think about it.

Just because, say, Jennifer has become recently engaged to the love of her life, it doesn’t mean she’s going to be more productive at work. She might be glad to have job security and stability and that is what motivates her to put in the hours.

Yet will Jennifer go the extra mile in the same way a truly engaged employee will? Does she champion the brand outside of work, proving to be a loyal advocate? Is she interested in new ideas and taking a proactive approach to her work?

Simply put, does Jennifer give a damn about the company at all? Possibly not.

The problem is, happiness is an unpredictable emotion that’s hard to bottle, manage or measure.    

Sodexo’s research shows that it’s engaged employees who will truly drive your company forward and be more productive in the long run. Engaged employees go the extra mile, trust in seniors, rise to a challenge, motivate peers and make the company look and sound good. If they’re engaged, they’re more likely to stick around and that makes your organisation look good too.

Employee retention is less of a pressing concern when staff are actively out there recommending your company as a brilliant place to work – in fact, businesses with highly engaged employees receive 100% more job applications, meaning there’s greater chance of finding and retaining top talent.

  • 82% of engaged employees say they go above and beyond what is expected of them.
  • 91% of engaged workers feel challenged and utilised at work.
  • 90% of engaged employees feel a sense of commitment and/or dedication to their company. 

Time to engage

Annie McKee’s ‘Being Happy at Work Matters’ piece in Harvard Business Review, says it’s a myth that happy equals engaged. She states that to be fully engaged and happy, virtually everyone wants three things:

1) A meaningful vision of the future 

By involving your people in the company’s vision, you can encourage them to play their part towards driving success and meeting future goals. A team approach where collaboration is truly fostered is the way to achieve this. 

2) A sense of purpose 

Give employees a true sense of ownership of projects, letting them run with ideas and see their work through, offering credit where credit is due. A collective and cohesive attitude like this should also have an effect on boosting loyalty to your organisation.  

3) Great relationships

With open lines of communication, good leadership, training and mentoring opportunities, employees will thrive and you can create workplace engagement like never before. A good manager should always know where their people are at.    

As Richard Branson says:

“Learn how to look after your staff first and the rest will follow. By treating people well, they will be happy. Happy staff are proud staff and proud staff deliver excellent customer service, which drives business success.”

Well, he certainly makes it sound easy...

Feel good employee feeling

If employee wellbeing isn’t already high on your HR agenda, it’s time for some company soul searching. Absences due to stress and sickness are often linked with employee mental health – if you’re people aren’t feeling perky and inspired, they simply won’t show up, in all senses of the word.

Not only can lost productivity impact your company performance, but studies show that FTSE 100 companies that address employee health and wellbeing perform better than those who sweep the subject under the carpet.   

Not to continue on too much of a downer here, but poor employee wellbeing is a costly business and one that HR departments need to address. HR Magazine writes that the majority (82%) of employees perceive the level of wellbeing in their company to be only moderate or low. 

It’s simply not good enough. So, what can you do?

Take the time out to find what your employees want from you


Engaged but not happy

First up, you can boost employee happiness at work with positive events like promotions, recognition and pay rises. But these bring short, sharp bursts of immediate happiness aren’t guaranteed to translate into long-term happiness.

Employee recognition comes in many forms. As engagement specialists will tell you, it’s all part of establishing a brighter, better corporate culture. 

“The Hedonic Treadmill theory suggests that, no matter what, humans will always return to the same baseline of happiness. The events which make, or are perceived to make, people happy or sad can only have an impact on them for a limited amount of time."
Fenja Ziegler, Senior Psychology Lecturer, University of Lincoln.

Don’t get us wrong, employee benefits have a place to play when boosting workplace engagement. But try to think long-term when rewarding and recognising your people.

Maren Hogan, Founder and CEO of Red Brick Media says, “Engaged employees are far more likely to become disengaged if employers only think about making them happy.” A pay rise might have big initial impact, but the effects won’t be felt for as long as say, removing obstacles that are stopping an employee’s pet project from getting off the ground.

Providing relevant and absorbing training opportunities are also going to be far more fulfilling and bring valuable new skills to your workforce than a new pension scheme, as important as financial wellbeing might be.

These days, employees view traditional benefits as a rite of passage and these won’t make your employee any more engaged in their role.

Employee benefits that go beyond

Listening to your employees and responding to their requests will have far greater impact on their overall wellbeing than one-off company benefits like a cycle to work scheme or monthly massage. They’re nice to have of course, but company perks should play one part of a well created, differentiated and meaningful employee experience. 

As we see it, there’s no reason why employee health and wellbeing programmes shouldn’t be included in a support strategy to better help engage with employees. These sit well alongside other staff benefits like discounted gym memberships and yoga classes.  

Sodexo’s Move, Mould, Motivate study reveals the importance of meaningful communication as one way of engaging employees.

It’s also important to recognise employees’ strengths and nurture teams as part of this.

So, what's next?

Click to discover more about employee engagement