Happiness is an illusion, well-being can be bought, satisfaction is earned

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Employee satisfaction

Aware that the disconnection between them and their employees and their work does not serve them in the long term, companies are increasingly concerned about what Marylène Delbourg-Delphis calls human infrastructure.

The question is how to measure and repair the said human infrastructure. And there are many approaches and ideas.

Happiness at work or the art of overpromising

To begin with, the chestnut tree of the moment: happiness at work. Who can be against it? Of course we all prefer happy collaborators, that’s not the point. But as said earlier this year, happiness at work is an ambitious and risky promise.

Ambitious because not everyone has the same definition of happiness. For some it is just being left in peace, for others it is being challenged, some will find happiness in their achievement at any cost, others in a peaceful relationship with the company, with others. And so on. It is not easy to make happiness à la carte because what makes some people happy will make others unhappy. And I add so that everyone’s definition of happiness evolves over time: once you have achieved a certain level of happiness, you will ask for more to be happy. Or conversely, over time, you’ ll change the order of priority of what you need to be happy.

Unrealistic because the very notion of “happiness at work” introduces the seeds of failure. Can we be happy “at work”? I mean at work only? So yes, for some, as long as the work is going well, the rest doesn’t matter. But it’s only a part of the population, not large enough to generalize. For the vast majority, we are happy or not happy and this includes both work and private life. Of course there may be times when just being happy at work will make you happy at all, but it is a often a temporary imbalance situation. And then there are those for whom happiness at work does not matter, as long as they are happy elsewhere and who will not sacrifice that elsewhere for professional reasons.

So a business can’t afford to promise happiness. It involves too many things on which it has no or little influence. Simply avoid making people unhappy will be enough.

Everything can be bought, even well-being

Another approach, which is already older, is that of well-being at work. It has proven its worth in some cases, failed in others.

There are two ways to consider well-being at work.

The first is holistic and will involve a large number of factors. There are things on the periphery of work that will affect comfort, off-time, and things related to the managerial model and managers’ obligations. If we also took into account the way work is organized, business processes and tools it would be in line with employee experience.

The second is really oriented towards “well-being” or even cocooning and is closer to what I call “building a spa next to the torture room”. You can change everything… except the work and the environment in which it takes place. Game consoles, fitness centres, spa, company restaurant, table football. As soon as you are not in a productive situation, you have enough to restore your well-being. But there is no change in productive activities or management.

And more often than not, it is precisely the external dimension of the work itself that is promoted. For lack of resources, lack of leadership, because we explain to the person in charge that he or she can do whatever he or she wants as long as he or she does not change anything in management and how work is done.

In short, well-being can be bought with the help of sports halls and Playstations, not sure that this will change anything. Taking painkillers reduces suffering but does not cure illness.

Employee satisfaction: an objective approach that requires resources and courage.

Third way: satisfaction. Less ambitious and dream seller than happiness, more rooted in the reality of work than well-being. Maybe more objective too.

And certainly easier to evaluate. You can ask someone “Are you satisfied with your work and why?” and you will have a result that is not only objective but “actionable” as it is easy to deduce the areas for improvement for the organization.

Answering the question “Are you satisfied?” is actually answering two questions.

– Do you have what you need?

– Do you get what you deserve?

But before answering these two questions there is a bias to avoid. When an employee joins a company, he does so according to the company’s promise. This promise has two dimensions.

The first is explicit: what the company formally promises, regardless of the subject. It can be about working conditions, the type of projects and missions, the type of clients, career development, etc.

The second is implicit: what the employee thinks he understands and what he finds normal to expect from the company. This is not formulated, sometimes only exists in the employee’s head. Sometimes it falls “right”, sometimes totally off topic. If the company is not responsible for what the employee thinks it is, it is when it leaves areas of darkness on its promise by thinking “let them dream, the important thing is that they sign”.

If there is any misunderstanding about the promise, this will produce one or more lasting or even irreparable reasons for dissatisfaction because from the outset the employee’s signature is based on a misunderstanding. And in the employee’s head this misunderstanding will become the more of a lie and he will have the impression that he has been knowingly cheated from the beginning.

It is therefore important for a company to be clear about its promise, its “experience contract”, a term that I prefer to the EVP because it is less unilateral. The EVP is a proposal, a promise and we all know what a promise is. An experience contract is binding. One can be limited to an employer brand speech, the other engages the organization and must have a managerial reality, a business reality.

So let’s get back to our two questions.

When asked if they have what they need, employees will most often talk about the reality of the work, its content, its organisation and the means at their disposal to accomplish their mission. It will cover organization, management, tools, business processes, training, resources, resources, quality of human relations in the company.

When we ask if he gets what he deserves, it will be about salary but also recognition, once again training, promotion, career development.

The answer to these two questions will allow you, in my opinion, to draw up a relatively objective and dispassionate assessment of the state of the human infrastructure.

The problem with satisfaction is that if it is measured in a very concrete way, it requires corrective actions that are just as concrete. Unlike happiness, which is a vague notion, or the well-being that can be partly bought, employee satisfaction is earned and often requires in-depth and long-term work.

It does not allow you to kick in the back, hide behind “soft” notions and smoke screens that hide the reality of how life is in the company and how the employee, finally, lives his experience in the company.

Photo : Satisfaction des employés  De creativetan via Shutterstock