By contrast, Passion, commitment, and most importantly, discretionary effort... Engaged employees are motivated to do more than the bare minimum needed in order to keep their jobs. They have a strong sense of purpose and leadership. They love to be challenged. Engaged employees are the engine of a company, and their performance is proof of this. The importance of engagement cannot be overstated. Satisfied employees are merely happy or content with their jobs and the status quo. For some, this might involve doing as little work as possible. An employee satisfaction survey will not diagnose key factors that can help an organization improve engagement and performance.
Talented and motivated employees expect more from companies. For these employees, job satisfaction includes a different set of criteria. They want to be engaged and empowered. They want to be challenged and pushed. They want their work to have meaning. They want a sense of purpose. A culture of continuous improvement and the importance of professional development opportunities for employees to grow and advance their careers, to better their performance, are key factors that contribute to the engagement of high performers.
The problem with employee satisfaction is that it does not focus on the things that are important to your most talented staff. A happy or content employee might be quite satisfied with a job that requires very little effort. This employee might be perfectly content doing the bare minimum required to keep his or her job. These employees are likely "very satisfied" with their jobs. They usually lack leadership and purpose. Their performance might be "good enough". They are unlikely to leave the company, but they are not necessarily adding value.
As opposed to satisfied employees, engaged employees add value by pushing limits, driving growth and innovation. Organizations that embrace a value-centric, engagement focus, too, have to push limits, Companies with an engagement strategy provide informal and formal learning experiences in order to create significant opportunities for employees so employees feel valued and recognized for their work. Engaged employees will often snatch up these opportunities, satisfied employees often will not.
Employee satisfaction surveys can lead an organization down the wrong path. As a company, if you focus on increasing the wrong kind of employee satisfaction, you risk entrenching those employees who are adding the least value while driving your most talented employees out.
See also: What is employee engagement?