Employee engagement is a critical component of an organization’s success. This study by the Gallup Organization showed that organizations with a high level of engagement outperformed their competition. The study also concluded that even in tough economic times, employment engagement is still an important predictor of a company’s performance. But to make the most of what an employee engagement initiative can offer, leaders need to understand what employee engagement is, and what it isn’t.

Employee engagement is not the same as employee satisfaction

“There’s a big difference between an engaged employee and a satisfied employee,” says Don Smith, Vice President of Operations at ClearPicture. “Engaged employees will go the extra mile to help the company succeed.”

This can mean anything from staying late after work without being asked, or going out of their way to make a customer feel special.

Employee satisfaction, however, is a measure of how happy or content an employee is. Although most organizations also want their staff to be happy, a satisfied employee may not be giving their best to your organization. They might be happy because they don’t feel they have to work hard, or because they don’t care about what they do. In these cases, happy employees can be a hindrance to your business.

Employee engagement is about commitment

Employee engagement is about how committed your employees are to your organization. In 2012, Forbes described employee engagement as “the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals”, which means that employees care about their work.

“Engaged employees have a very profound effect on how successful a company is,” says Smith. “To me, engagement is about the degree of commitment an employee has.”

Think about how many times you have walked out of a store because there was no one willing to help you, perhaps because they were too busy on their cell phone or chatting with a co-worker. Employees in these situations are disengaged. On the other hand, most people have also experienced great customer service where an employee was so helpful that we bought more than we intended. These are the employees that companies strive to attract and retain, because they’re engaged.

Engagement is satisfying for everyone

The key is getting people engaged in the first instance, and then keeping them engaged. Doing that gives the best return, because not coincidentally, engaged employees tend to be the happiest.

The most successful companies invest energy in measuring the level of employee engagement in their organizations, and acting on that information to help both the organization and its employees grow.