Defining employee engagement and happiness

When it comes to employee engagement and happiness, many people know that it's something they need to focus on in their business.

Defining employee engagement and happiness

When it comes to employee engagement and happiness, many people know that it’s something they need to focus on in their business. There are lots of big stats making the rounds in this space. Companies who invest in employee engagement are 22% more productive. Happy companies perform better on the stock market by 2.3-3.8% per year. But what is employee engagement and what’s the difference with employee happiness. 

Employee engagement vs. Happiness

Happiness speaks to our hearts. Engagement speaks to our brains. By understanding how staff are thinking and feeling the business will thrive. Engagement gives us direction and happiness creates energy. Imagine a car… engagement is the Sat Nav and happiness is the fuel. It’s one thing knowing where you want to go, it’s another to have the energy to take you there!

What does happiness mean in the work context?

Often when we think of happiness we think about mood. In the workplace, this is a little simplistic. This is because mood fluctuates, and no one is happy all the time. In fact, being happy all the time is as much a mental health issue as being sad all the time. 

When we think about happiness in the context of work, we think about 4 different areas. These are safety, relationships, acknowledgement and freedom. You can put these into a pyramid similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In order to be happy we first need to feel safe. Then we need relationships within the workplace and to feel needed and appreciated. Finally, a sense of freedom is important too. 

As a business leader, it can be easy to get caught up in the bigger picture. But, thinking about whether your people feel safe and appreciated can go a long way to making them feel happier in the workplace. 

What about employee engagement?

When HR professionals talk about Employee Engagement, sometimes they’re talking about culture and sometimes they’re talking about productivity. What we mean by engagement is how connected people feel to their work. 

There are different drivers of engagement. We think of these as meaning and purpose, role clarity, personal growth, and enablement. Depending on your team and the way they think, feel and behave, these different factors will play different roles and look different. For example, for some people role clarity is key, and they prefer to have clearly defined areas of responsibility, while others like to be able to get involved in different projects. 

Balancing happiness and engagement

With the right balance of engagement and happiness your organisation will achieve a thriving culture. I like to use neuroscience to think about how to do this. Happiness relates to the instinctive and emotional parts of our brain. The instinctive area of the brain deals with factors like safety and freedom. The emotional area of the brain focuses on the factors of relationships and acknowledgment. On the other hand, engagement links to the reflective and rational parts of the brain. Our reflective brain looks at factors such as meaning, purpose and personal growth. The rational part of our brains deals with clarity and enablement. 

When businesses understand how to measure the happiness and engagement of their people, and create action plans to improve both areas – they will reap the rewards of a happy, engaged and highly driven workforce. The healthy balance sheet will follow soon after!

Matt Phelan
Matt Phelan

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