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Why Employee Engagement Is The Secret To Workplace Happiness

Why Engagement Is The Secret To Workplace Happiness

Would you say that your employees are happy? Probably. Would your employees say that they are happy? That may be tougher to judge.

In honor of August being “National Happiness Month,” we’re taking a look at what workplace “happiness” is, how to measure it, and the impact it can have on employers.

What is workplace happiness? (Satisfaction vs. Engagement)

From a more practical standpoint, happiness can be broken out into two main factors: satisfaction and engagement. While these two factors might seem synonymous, they are, in fact, quite different.

Think of job satisfaction as the building blocks of workplace happiness, the minimum expectations or requirements that must be met for an employee to consent to come in to work, day in and day out. Factors that equate to high levels of employee satisfaction are things like adequate compensation, a pleasant and safe work environment, decent working hours, appropriate direction and recognition from management. If all these expectations are met, someone could be perfectly content coming in to work each day, completing their assigned tasks and leaving at the end of the day. The relationship here between employee and employer is more of a transactional one – the employee completes the work in exchange for an agreed-upon level of compensation, end of story. Essentially, a satisfied employee will get the job done, but their heart’s really not in it. They could be doing the same work for another company and be equally as satisfied.

Employee engagement is a step above satisfaction. Engagement is associated with more intangible factors than those associated with satisfaction, making it a slightly harder concept to grasp. Basically, engaged employees are the ones who are all in. They believe in your business’ vision and the work they do. They see themselves as an extension of the company, and are truly invested in helping the company achieve its goals. They understand the meaning behind every task or function, how it relates to the bigger picture, and the impact they have on the company’s success. Engaged employees focus on their professional futures and are aligned with their company’s objectives, so they are often more effective at applying their talents to achieve corporate business goals.

So what are the factors that influence engagement levels?

  • Effective management. A good employee-manager relationship is the greatest predictor of employee engagement. While the top brass of a company may be the ones in charge of setting the course for the organization, it’s the managers and supervisors who have the most influence over and interaction with workers on a day-to-day basis. A great manager inspires confidence and trust, and is capable of motivating his or her employees to do perform at their best.
  • Rewards and recognition. While actual compensation is tied to satisfaction, rewards and recognition can have a pretty significant impact on engagement. Employees who feel that their contributions are recognized particularly when they go “above and beyond” by the management and senior leadership teams, are more likely to continue working hard and putting in extra effort. (Check out our infographic “How To Create A Winning Employee Appreciation Strategy” for more tips on how to effectively recognize and reward your employees.)
  • Performance management. Performance management is something the vast majority of employers struggle with. In fact, a recent Forbes article pointed out that just 6 percent of business leaders believe the way their company currently managing employee performance is worth the amount of time they spend on it. This is a bit of a problem, as having a great performance management strategy has been linked to increased levels of productivity and engagement.
  • Professional development. One of the clearest ways to show your employees that you value their contributions is to create opportunities for them to develop and learn new skills. Again, supervisors play a big part by understanding where employees want to take their careers and affording them opportunities for growth in that direction.
  • Company culture. Like engagement, trying to narrow down a singular and all-encompassing definition for company culture is difficult. A company’s culture is the combination of its history, vision, values, mission, goals, attitudes and practices. All of these factors come together to form the personality of the company – laid-back, buttoned-up, fun, fast-paced, innovative, friendly, etc. A positive company culture helps employees feel more connected to their employer.

How do you measure workplace happiness?

If you want to find out how happy your employees are, it stands to reason that you could just ask them whether or not they’re happy. Unfortunately, it’s really not that easy. Going up to an employee and flat-out asking if they’re happy at work can come across as intimidating, and isn’t really likely to get you the kind of honest answers you need.

Instead, try taking an indirect approach by creating and sending out a survey to your employees. Again, you should be careful to avoid outright asking employees to say that they’re happy or unhappy. Not only will this have the same intimidating effect as asking them in person, but it also won’t provide specific feedback you’ll need in order to drill down and uncover the root causes of any unhappiness your employees are feeling. You should also consider using rating scales instead of “yes or no” responses.

Below are ten sample questions to include in your next employee survey that will help you measure the engagement factors mentioned above.

Effective Management Survey Questions

Rewards & Recognition Survey Questions

Performance Management Survey Questions

Professional Development Survey Questions

Company Culture Survey Questions

How does workplace happiness affect productivity?

Happy employees are productive employees. Productive employees equal profits. Don’t believe us? Just check out the research:

According to findings from Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report. When they compared performance across key business performance indicators like quality, productivity and profitability, the top 25 percent of teams consistently outperformed the bottom 25 percent of teams.

Engagement's Effects on Key Performance Indicators

Medium outcomes between the top- and bottom-quartile teams

The same report also found a link between employee engagement and business performance. 

  • Companies who average 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee experienced 147 percent higher earnings per share than their competition.
    Engaged Employees
  • By contrast, companies who averaged only 2.6 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee experienced just 2 percent higher earnings per share than their competition.
    Unengaged Employees


While everyone is bound to have a bad day at the office, long-term unhappiness in the workplace can have serious effects on a business. Think of it as a ripple effect: If your employees aren’t happy, they aren’t engaged in their work. If they’re not engaged in their work, they aren’t going to operate at their most optimum level of productivity. And if your employees aren’t operating at their most optimum level of productivity, both the quality and the quantity of their work (your goods and services) will suffer. And if the quality of their work drops, you’ll have some very unhappy customers. And if your customers aren’t happy, your bottom line won’t be feeling so great, either. 

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