The Connection Between Employee Engagement and Happiness


We believe much of the employee angst fueling recent headlines could be remedied (or at least mitigated) if business leaders understood one thing: Happy employees are not always engaged, but engaged employees are usually happy. 

Gallup defines employee engagement as “the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace.” I take it one step further to say that employee engagement is the level in which employees can identify, support and connect with their company.

You can see, neither of those definitions mention anything explicit about employee satisfaction. The truth is, employee engagement is directly connected to happiness yet radically different, and significantly more complex. Engaged employees have an interest in forwarding their company’s values and goals, motivating them to put in their best effort and produce their best work. Employee happiness, on the other hand, comes with the sense of accomplishment and growth that stems from those “great work” moments.

To make decisions that can impact both, and therefore address issues such as retention, turnover, or weak company culture, leaders must know how to measure and act on employee engagement and employee happiness, separately.

The Cycle of Engagement

Because happiness itself is trickier to influence or control, companies should focus on getting employees engaged, first. The thing about true engagement is, it’s an inherently resilient force. It goes like this:

  1. Through recognition for having a positive impact, engaged employees naturally develop and nurture an authentic sense of purpose and accomplishment, even as they advance their employers’ goals
  2. As the organization grows, new challenges and opportunities for engaged employees open up (think career advancement through the need for new skills or job roles that come with a scaling business)
  3. The rewarding feeling from professional growth is the cherry on top
    of all of the other contributors to happiness — like accomplishment, recognition, and career advancement — which sustains engagement, and the cycle continues

To get the wheel turning and keep it turning, leaders must know where levels of engagement and happiness stand, and how to pick up on trends up or down. This is where measurement is key.

Measuring Macro

Measuring employee engagement and employee happiness well requires a dual-faceted approach. For engagement, you need a macro scale approach — a simple survey alone won’t due. Instead, a broad evaluation of indicators for employee devotion and commitment to the company is needed. Here are a few areas to consider:

Proactive networking can provide a solid benchmark for engagement. Employees who want to see their company succeed will go out of their way to stimulate growth. They’ll seek new clients or look for opportunities to expand the relationship with existing customers. They’ll evaluate or even recommend potential partners or resources that could improve processes or add new capabilities to the business. They’ll proudly shout out company milestones on their social channels.

Connection with management is critical for employee engagement. How close do your employees and managers work together? How often? Managers have the unique ability to advocate for and praise employees to leadership, which can result in more recognition and fulfillment for employees’ effort. If management is isolated from the work of their teams, employees can feel as if their hard work goes unnoticed and lose motivation.

Collaboration is employee-led when people are engaged. Do your employees take it upon themselves to find time to solve problems, combine strengths, or simply work together? Do they ever voluntarily meet or communicate outside of work? If not, your business may not be fostering strong engagement. Be mindful of the quantity and quality of meetings in the workplace and encourage an environment where employees feel empowered and have the space to make time to work together.

Positive relationships
Having friends at work is a big deal. Over 75% of employees with a close friend at work are much more likely to stay at their company. If not a friend, a reliable mentor, a helpful manager, or positive teammates at minimum are a must — all of the above are ideal. Talk to employees about their interpersonal relationships at work. If they don’t have a friend, help them get one. It’s critical to engagement.

Measuring Micro

Assessing happiness, on the other hand, requires a micro approach. This is where simply talking to individual employees — or deploying a survey to the entire workforce — can be a suitable way to gauge employees’ feelings and attitudes toward work. So long as you ask thoughtful questions, and garner consistent participation, the feedback gleaned from frequent surveys will provide enough information to measure happiness and influence actions to positively impact it.

A few tips:

  • Test different survey cadences until you reach a participation rate that can be maintained (daily is probably too often to get meaningful feedback, quarterly is likely too infrequent to be useful)
  • Leave the boilerplate questions at the door, and think about what you can ask that will encourage employees to open up about how they really feel — don’t ask for a rating; do ask open-ended questions
  • Be trustworthy. If you want authentic, transparent feedback, you have to treat it carefully and never punish an employee for sharing how they feel. A climate of fear will ensure you never hear the truth.


Some of today’s most pressing issues are symptoms of disengaged, unhappy workforces. The key to improving both employee engagement and employee happiness is to understand that the two are directly connected, yet entirely different, and measuring each effectively.

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