Live Chat

What is the Difference Between Employee Engagement and Happiness

September 7, 2015

By: Crystal Spraggins

I once heard a corporate leader remark that she didn’t care if her employees were happy. Really?

That’s a rather short-sighted view for a leader to hold. Study after study has consistently confirmed that happier employees are more productive than unhappy employees, and deeply unhappy employees can be quite destructive, affecting both the company culture and the bottom line. In fact, a 2014 Gallup poll found that unhappy employees cost companies between $450 and $550 billion every year.

At the same time, no one can cause someone to be happy if she doesn’t want to be, sort of like no one can cause someone to be unhappy if she’s determined to hold onto a measure of joy.

Put another way, there’s only so much a company can do to encourage employees to be happy.

But that does beg the question—are you doing what you can?

Causes of Workplace Unhappiness

The causes of workplace unhappiness aren’t hard to understand. Mean, incompetent, unsupportive, and aggressive bosses make people unhappy, as do uncompetitive wages and benefits, unrelentingly heavy workloads, dumb policies that hamstring processes, unclear role delineation, uncooperative coworkers, and poor communication.

And make no mistake. Just because some employees are better at managing bad bosses, lack of clarity and heavy workloads doesn’t mean any of this is okay. Get that idea out of your head right now, please. If your employees have been toiling under these burdens and still doing pretty well, consider yourself fortunate with a capital F. You’re ahead of the game in some respects, so take advantage of your employees’ resiliency without taking advantage of your employees and do what you can to create a more healthy and happy workplace now.

Here’s how.

On the Road to More Happy Employees

Just as it’s not particularly hard to predict the conditions that contribute to employee unhappiness, it’s not hard to predict those conditions that contribute to employee happiness.

For example:

Bosses who listen. That Gallup poll referenced earlier found that the main cause of unhappy employees is bad management. Another 2012 study reported that 35 percent of dissatisfied employees had a boss who “never, or only sometimes,” listened to their work-related concerns. No matter how busy a boss gets, there’s no excuse for not having time to listen to employees. Period.

Clear expectations. How frustrating is it to do a task to the best of your ability, in the manner and using the methods you thought appropriate, only to find that your boss had an entirely different result in mind? Very. Double that if your boss’ reaction to the disconnect is critical and punitive. Clear expectations clearly communicated help eliminate painful and unproductive misunderstandings, so hold managers accountable for taking the time to mean what they say and say what they mean.

Fair compensation and benefits. Think twice before patting yourself on the back for successfully lowballing that great new employee. Once the glow of the new job subsides and the day-to-day responsibilities sink in, that employee will begin to feel had, and it won’t be long before bitterness and disengagement follow. Also keep this truth in mind before “promoting” an employee without an appropriate bump in pay or whenever you’re tempted to ask an employee to do significantly more for less. It’s just not fair, and that’s exactly how employees will perceive it.

Emotionally healthy workplaces. In emotionally healthy workplaces, employees feel safe to express their ideas and opinions, especially their unpopular opinions. Not so in emotionally unhealthy or negative workplaces. These workplaces have replaced respect and trust with fear and suspicion. Not surprisingly, such workplaces inhibit creativity and risk-taking. Your managers may believe everything would be great if everyone just did as he was told, but frankly, they’re wrong. Great companies need their employees to think, and thinking becomes impeded once the message gets out that disagreeing with the powers that be is career suicide.

The Difference Between Employee Engagement and Happiness

Some experts would argue that happiness is beside the point because happy employees aren’t necessarily productive. Heck, I’ve argued that point in past articles.  However, I’ve also said (or at least I hope I said) that while every happy employee is not engaged, you can bet that every engaged employee is happy.

So while there’s a difference between being happy (having positive well-being) and being engaged (having emotional ties to the job) as far as employers are concerned, it’s all the same. Strive to make your employees happy, and they’ll by and large emotionally connect to the job.

Crystal Spraggins

Freelance Writer, Editor, and HR Consultant in Philly. You can find more of Crystal's work at:

Related Posts

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram