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Employee Satisfaction Doesn't Matter

Employee Satisfaction Doesn't Matter

The employee engagement movement started in the late 1990s and then went full steam ahead in 2000. Organizations everywhere began systematically measuring employee engagement. That intense interest is now evolving into deeper thinking about company culture. Top leadership teams are seriously considering what kind of culture they want and need to win more customers.

A warning to those leaders: If you're measuring the effectiveness of your culture by your workforce's "satisfaction," you're doing it all wrong.

Fortune 1000 executives often come up to me and say, "Our company culture is robust -- our employees have an 85% satisfaction rate." Good for you. You have ruined your workplace. Ask any employee, "What will satisfy you?" and the answer is easy: free lunches, more vacation time, latte machines --- and don't forget a ping pong table.

Problem is, measuring workers' satisfaction or happiness levels is just not enough to retain star performers and build a successful business. You think giving more vacation time is great? Try this on: Engaged employees who took less than one week off from work in a year had 25% higher overall well-being than actively disengaged associates -- even those who took six weeks or more of vacation time.

Employees don't want to be "satisfied" as much as they want to be engaged. What they want most is a great boss who cares about their development, and a company that focuses on and develops their strengths. Trying to satisfy employees' appetites for free lunches, lattes, and ping pong tables is giving people something they don't deeply want -- and that isn't natural or good for them. What you're doing is feeding the bears.

Let me explain. While at Yellowstone National Park several years ago, I noticed the famous sign that says, "Don't Feed the Bears." I asked the ranger if a lot of campers were getting mauled. "No," he shot back, and then went on to explain that the sign isn't for the protection of the campers -- but for the protection of the bears. Because once the bears taste a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, they quit digging for roots and catching deer. A kind gesture by a camper ruins the natural instincts and therefore the lives of these cool bears.

Most companies still feed their bears. And if you feed them well enough, national business magazines will even give you an award for it. Your bear-feeding culture will be recognized and celebrated worldwide.

But what is the right culture? More importantly: What is a winning culture?

A winning culture is one of engagement and individual contribution to an important mission and purpose. Human beings are not looking for company-bought goodies -- they are looking for meaningful, fulfilling work. It is the new great global dream -- to have a good job, not a free lunch. The dream is to have a job in which you work for a great manager; where you constantly develop; and where you can use your God-given strengths every single day.

Companies with winning cultures feed their employees' deep-down need to develop and grow. They don't feed the bears.


Jim Clifton is Chairman of Gallup.

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