Not too long back we measured 'employee satisfaction' at work. These surveys were designed to assess how happy or satisfied an employee was with the work environment, the behaviors at work, the attitude of leaders, etc. The inference was that come a certain time of the year, an employee could sit in the chair of the judge and check boxes on a left-to-right scale from 'Very Satisfied' to 'Dissatisfied'.
And then the lexicon began to shift - imperceptibly at first, but more boldly with the passage of years. Satisfaction transmuted to Engagement, and we had a new mantra. For most people this was puzzling; didn't the two mean the same in our context? even if there was a subtle difference, did it merit changing all possible relevant material?
Well, there is a difference in the nuance, if not in the overall intent.
The term 'satisfaction' is more one-way, where the organization stands to serve, in a manner of speaking, and the employee is the recipient. 'Engagement', on the other hand, encompasses a relationship of mutuality. Both parties work with each other, there is some degree of give-and-take and both stand to benefit (or not) from the relationship.
By implication, the onus of furthering and nurturing this relationship rests with both employee and organization. No one side sits in judgement on the other. Both work towards common goals and then there is an assessment that is placed in the hands of the employee (the organization's assessment of the employee is a matter of another article!!!).
On a more tactical level 'satisfaction' is also viewed as acceptability of work environment, logistics or, in short, the 'hygiene factors'. 'Engagement' purports to be more comprehensive, covering not just enablers at work, but work and work relationships. It effectively takes further the assessment of the physical workplace to an assessment that is more meaningful, since employees come in to not just partake an environment, but to contribute to the core purpose.
So, does the changed terminology make a difference? Yes, it does. Gen X and Y of the workforce are more focused on the overall value proposition than they are on the basics. They need to know overall direction, they want to see how the dots link up, how they fit in and what they walk away with. They are not here to be 'satisfied', they want to be engaged and add value. So, it's no point asking them scores of questions on workplace basics that will have them merely shrug their shoulders and stifle a yawn. And, even though the questions on that survey may not be very different from yesteryear's, the positioning makes all the difference in their minds.
Finally, it's important to remember that this is not about a one-time, annual survey; it's about taking that as a baseline and working towards common goals. 'Satisfaction' is a point of arrival, whereas 'engagement' denotes year-round collaboration on working towards those goals and raising the bar... and then finding more goals to chase and things to better!