The Real Definition of an Engaged Employee

This week I had the pleasure of reading Maren Hogan’s latest piece, ‘Engaged Employees’ and ‘Happy Employees’: Not Exactly Synonyms. I initially clicked the link because it’s a hot button topic and I was interested a the different perspective on the issue of employee happiness, but I found myself fundamentally disagreeing with the rationale behind the definition of an engaged employee.

In the article that Hogan uses to demonstrate “bad science” Fast Company explains that you can keep employees engaged through open communication, allowing feedback on difficult decisions, offering advancement options, listening to employee thoughts, and being open with long-term goals. Yes, these items focus on employee engagement, but ultimately, these are the things that make employees happy, therefore, employees who are happy at work are engaged. They are one in the same.

Hogan’s second point is that, “there’s no proof that happy employees will do anything great for your company.” Even though happy employees aren’t always tracked for ROI; they are part of a larger recruitment branding strategy. This strategy works as an ever-present ambassador to outside candidates who may not even recognized that they are being influenced. It is part of a long-term game. It stands to reason that passionate, engaged employees who are invested in the overall success of the company are good resources; however I would argue that someone who is miserable in their job is not going to reach that level of passion thus costing the company money and time.

The article continues to point out that happiness isn’t the point. Yes, it’s true, companies shouldn’t be entirely focused on employee happiness (they still have a bottom line), but often, doing little things to make employee lives better can inspire a less engaged employee. Offering opportunities and listening to employees creates a better workplace culture.

Personally, being inspired makes me happy and being happy makes me a good employee. Therefore, in my mind happy is engaged when is comes to work.

My favorite part of this article was about the dangers of misunderstanding engaged employees. Hogan makes a solid argument that some employees are motivated by the need to receive a paycheck and remain employed. Yes, I’d agree that paying my bills is a motivating factor, but that only goes so far. I’ve met many people throughout my career that go work, do a good job and check out at the end of the day. Yes, they produce work, but I would argue that a happy employee produces better work and might think more creatively when it comes to problem-solving. Those who are just motivated by pay often end up happy with the status quo rather than challenging preconceived notions and improving the overall company.

Hogan paints people who bring up new points as less-than-happy while I see them as futurists. They are forward thinking and are striving for more happiness and long-term employment success. An unhappy employee does not care if their company goes down. Happy employees see a forest; sad employees see the trees.

Hogan mentions later in the article that we need to stop competing by using employee happiness as a piece of the puzzle. It’s true; you shouldn’t try to compete against companies that are not like yours. Brands are different and each needs to have a unique strategy to maximize employee engagement. There is no silver bullet.

The biggest issue I have with this article is how Hogan intrinsically defines happiness. I believe employee happiness is employee engagement. Happiness is a concept that is relative. Happiness at work is engagement. Happiness at home is something different. Though different things make different people happy (introverts may be happy studying analytics and account managers may prefer interacting with customers), employee engagement is employee happiness.


While I mentioned there isn’t a magic solution to increase overall employee happiness, we’ve noted distinct themes across our recruitment endeavors. Learn them by subscribing to receive our blogs!

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