How to increase employee happiness and engagement

We wish your employee happiness…

Are your employees happy and engaged? Do you fully reap the benefits of a highly engaged workforce? Probably not.
employee happiness, employee engagement


Employee happiness has been hot on the HR priority list for a while now. A new function – chief happiness officer – has appeared in a number of visible corporations. HR community websites, dedicated solely to the subject of making employees happy, have been created and have gained audience and momentum. In short, it seems that people talk at length about employee happiness and engagement – and probably do a lot to make them happen. But does it show?
In a nutshell: not really.

1. Employee happiness as a business strategy

Happier, yes…

The latest SHRM report on employee satisfaction and engagement shows that US employees are rather satisfied with their jobs.
According to the report, 38 per cent say they’re very satisfied and 51 per cent somewhat satisfied.
(Source: 2017 SHRM report on Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement.)
The same report also shows a steady improvement in employee satisfaction rates since 2013: a total increase of 6 per cent from 2013 to 2017.
Unfortunately, employee engagement rates don’t seem to show the same trends.

But still not engaged

Year after year, poll agencies publish statistical data on employee engagement with no visible trend towards improvement. The latest Gallup State of the Global Workplace report from 2017 finds that 85 per cent of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their jobs.
There are some noteworthy regional differences. Western Europe shows among the lowest engagement rates, with 10 per cent of employees engaged. The US ranks among the best, with 31 per cent of employees engaged in their jobs.
But even the US performance remains well below the best-performing organisations, which show employee engagement rates as high as 70 per cent. More importantly, employee engagement rates have shown no trend towards improvement over the last decade or so.

2. The difference between employee happiness and employee engagement

When organisations appoint chief happiness officers, what they really have in mind is employee engagement not employee happiness. Those concepts are related but not equivalent.
An employee can be quite satisfied with their pay, hours of work, workplace, colleagues and management without being motivated to perform at their best or go the extra mile for the organisation. In other words, an employee can be satisfied and not engaged.
The opposite is less obvious, but still holds true. Samsung’s crisis management constitutes one recent effective example of that contradiction. An employee can push themselves, hoping that factors contributing to their dissatisfaction are temporary, for example. Also, employee satisfaction by its essence is a diffuse individual concept rather than a feature of the organisation. It has to do with individual perception of a particular state of mind rather than rational criteria of productivity and performance.
Naturally, most of the time, employee satisfaction would be a basis on which to build employee engagement. It’s difficult to imagine a deeply dissatisfied employee giving their all to their employer in the long run. However, it’s also true that 100 per cent satisfaction of all employees is unattainable. Isn’t it human nature to always long for greener grass?

Employee satisfaction ensuring the basics

When applying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the two first levels link to an employee’s need for survival, safety and security. Factors such as compensation or benefits are ever on the top of the employee satisfaction criteria and among the strongest factors influencing the decision to switch jobs (source: SRHM report). Another top criteria is respectful treatment of all employees at all levels and job security.
Without the basics being ensured, there can be no employee engagement, whatever an organisation’s other policies and efforts.

Transforming employee experience

Stepping back from the basics, the challenge of employee satisfaction can be tackled by rethinking the employee experience as a whole. From the very first contact of a prospective employee with an organisation until the very last, what does the employee experience? Is this experience enjoyable, pleasant, fulfilling? How can it be changed for the better? Transforming employee experience might be the secret to lasting employee satisfaction.

3. Tips to increase employee engagement

Employee engagement is more related to the upper part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: the sense of belonging (social needs), the sense of self-value and purpose (esteem needs) and personal growth (self-actualisation).

How to drive employee engagement

Employee engagement is a behaviour. And any change in behaviour on a group level relies first on communication. That’s where, in my opinion, digital collaboration and internal communication tools have an important role to play, by:
  • connecting employees to peers
  • establishing a sense of belonging even for remote workers
  • effectively relaying the organisation’s strategy and mission
  • improving employee recognition
  • connecting employees to information
  • enabling flexibility to balance work and life issues
  • increasing trust in the organisation and its management thanks to increased openness and transparency.

Is it worth it?

Organisations with the highest employee engagement levels (top quartile) are 21 per cent more profitable than those with low engagement levels (bottom quartile of those surveyed, source: Gallup). Better performance at all levels, fewer sick days, less turnover – these are but a few direct dollar-worth benefits of employee engagement.
Research also shows that organisations that invest in employee experience perform better than those that don’t on a wide range of metrics: stock price, revenue, profits (source: HBR).
Perhaps more importantly, it’s worth remembering that behind the concepts of employee satisfaction and employee engagement lie not only substantial financial gains but a happier workplace and a happier life for everyone.
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There are many definitions for the concept of employee engagement out there.
I am the Chief Executive Officer of eXo Platform (the open source digital workplace platform), a company that I co-founded while in college and that I came back to after several years in the banking and consulting industry. I blog about modern work, about open-source and sovereignty issues. Occasionally, I also blog about my personal areas of interest, such as personal development, work–life balance, sustainability and gender equality.
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Bill Fotsch
Bill Fotsch
18 January 2018 5 h 23 min

I think this article’s engagement suggestions are individually fine. But I would suggest a more holistic approach. Industry leaders, like Southwest Airlines, Capital One and BHP Billiton, and hundreds of private companies empower employees to think and act like owners, driving and participating in the profitable growth of the company. This is one of the big reason they are industry leaders.

Maya Reine Gonzalez
Maya Reine Gonzalez
31 January 2018 20 h 20 min

Nice article. Having a happy employee’s gives you several benefits like, It boost your employee’s productivity and also creates a good atmosphere in the work. That is why as a manager you must keep your employee’s happy. Thank you for sharing this.

9 January 2022 23 h 14 min

Wonderful blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo
News. Do you have any tips on how to get
listed in Yahoo News? I’ve been trying for a while but I never
seem to get there! Cheers