The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology


Employees Define Employee Satisfaction

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The Boggs Learning Chronicle blog highlighted a survey of top ten employee satisfaction indicators as defined by 2.2 million employees. Granted, I didn’t think much of the survey and my comments are below. Obviously what employees think is important is not what I think is important. All said, I virtually ignored their top 3 concerns, but I’ll address the top 5.

  1. Higher salaries – pay is the number one area in which employees seek change. Well of course it is. And of course they are not going to get it. In the good ‘ol days when compensation analysts did job evaluation based on points to determine the value of a job to the particular organization, it was possible that organizations valued identical jobs fairly differently (although usually that wasn’t the case). In today’s world where market surveys are used, almost all organizations are in lock step with each other. Employees of course want more money. But this isn’t a problem with external equity since everyone else is paying the same rate. This is a problem with their skill set or the profession they chose. As such, higher salaries should not be any indicator of engagement.
  2. Internal pay equity, particularly having concerns with “pay compression” (the differential in pay between new and more tenured employees). Pay compression is one of those annoying things. While unlikely in some professions (major law firms routinely pay people based on law school graduation year) more senior employees should theoretically be less subject to pay compression that at entry levels. I’m going to theorize (with virtually no evidence) that our annual reviews of market surveys and the coordination of those surveys with our compensation plans and merit processes should eliminate most vestiges of pay compression. I say theory because while the technology exists, it’s not always implemented or integrated. I also say theory because hiring practices may not be well coordinated with compensation management – thus creating additional compression.
  3. Benefits programs, particularly health/dental, retirement, and Paid Time Off/vacation days. Specifically, many employees feel that their health insurance costs too much, especially prescription drug programs. We can’t really argue with this one. Programs do cost too much, and PTO is insufficient. This is where communication programs like total compensation statements that include the employers cost of everything come into play. And while PTO is insufficient, unless you’re comparing to a global scale, there isn’t much to be done about it. The global workforce is not so fluid that the U.S. needs to compete with practices in the E.U. Workers are simply not able to move that easily.
  4. “Over-management” (A common phrase seen in employee comments is “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians”).  Of this list, it took until #4 to get my attention. #’s 1-3 I saw as superficial complaints that are part of the economics of business and are not subject to significant change no matter where the employee goes to work. Perhaps micro-management is also a factor here. One of the indicators for engagement is an employee’s autonomy to affect the course of a project/product/process. Perhaps this also links in with #9 below – too many chiefs also translates into too much overhead which then translates into not enough people doing the real work. When leadership is questioned in the minds of employees, the entire business model must be put to question. At risk are not only employee engagement but also the employer brand.
  5. Pay increase guidelines should place greater emphasis on merit.  Yes. Integrate your performance and compensation management technologies, will you?

Much ado about nothing? If you take my opinion, yes, employees complain about things that are not meaningful to business or that are within the organization’s ability to change. Everyone will agree that higher salaries would be nice but unless you can influence market rates it’s a zero sum game. Your employees are never going to stop complaining about how little they get paid.

What employees should really be focused on is how they can perform better and get better career progression. These are the factors that affect their salaries and influence how they feel about other factors such as benefits. These are also the factors that we in HR should be focused on in our talent practices. We need to coordinate with communications to ensure the best assimilation of these plans into the workforce.

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5 responses to “Employees Define Employee Satisfaction”

  1. Original post: Employees Define Employee Satisfaction by at Google Blog Search: employee satisfaction survey Blog tag: Paid online surveys Technorati tag: Paid online surveys

  2. Barnaby Fountain Avatar
    Barnaby Fountain

    Great commentary on a hot topic – employee satisfaction. I have found many leaders who confuse employee satisfaction with employee engagement and effectiveness. Some have argued that it’s not worthwhile to measure employee satisfaction because many of the drivers can’t or won’t be addressed. I recommend choosing different questions and accepting that engaged employees aren’t satisfied with everything about their job and company. This dissatisfaction is a significant contributor to their high level of engagement. What’s more important is that they see how their work is connected to the organization’s goals, they feel recognized for their contribution, they are pretty confident about their career path, and they feel adequately compensated. These are some of the things HR should be measuring. Then spread the word; satisfaction doesn’t equal engagement.

  3. systematicHR Avatar


    Satisfaction does not equal engagement and I agree with you that satisfaction is not an important measure. Satisfaction is employee directed while engagement is employer directed. What do we really care about? It’s really increasing productivity and therefore engagement, not satisfaction.

    Now, I could argue that creating engaged employees will by defualt create a satisfied employee. But the reverse does not hold true.


  4. I can’t get no – engagement?…

    Dubs makes the very good point that satisfaction and engagement are not the same thing in his post on the “top 10 employee satisfaction indicators.” He has a point. After all, who cares if employees are happy, so long a…

  5. […] Dubs makes the very good point that satisfaction and engagement are not the same thing in his post on the “top 10 employee satisfaction indicators.” He has a point. After all, who cares if employees are happy, so long as they’re engaged with their work. But satisfaction does play a role in engagement. Even if the traditional markers of engagement (right tools, personal growth, common purpose, etc) are in place, it’s hard to see the benefits (more productive, profitable, customer-focused) if employees are caught up in nagging Dis-satisfiers. […]

  6. systematicHR Avatar

    ***My response to a cross post on the Talent Management Blog

    Thanks for the follow-up. I really wish I had some data to show that engagement is correlated (and drives) satisfaction and not the other way around, But I don’t.

    Thinking about it, I can actually think of a couple areas where this isn’t true. We would hope that physicians are highly engaged, although they might hate their employers. Scientists and researchers “doing their life’s work” or creating drugs that amy save lives could also be in te category of being dissatisfied with the employer, but loving the work they do.

    At any rate, it deserves more discussion.