Employee Satisfaction Is Worthless

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Satisfaction by itself can often just lead to complacency. After all, if I feel completely satisfied with how things are, why should I improve? It’s like being asked out to a power lunch after eating a big bowl of pasta—“No ... I’m good.”

Two scenarios spring to mind when I consider how satisfaction in the workplace can become disadvantageous. When you are satisfied, your goals and innovative ideas seem to be less proactive. You might just start dreaming about kicking back in your yoga pants to develop the world’s first “Nap App.” Also, employees satisfied to the point of complacency will often look for new opportunities outside the company. Believing they’ve done all they can do within your walls, they feel it’s time to move on. With employee retention issues pervading every industry, don’t miss the potential impact here. Making sure your employees have everything they want could be driving them out the door. With COVID-19 on everyone’s mind these days, even quarantined workers who seemed grateful to not be laid off and to do their jobs from home with children underfoot may soon start to wish for the ax. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s entirely possible.


Some might say if your employees are engaged, they are satisfied. Well, that seems true, but the most accurate definition for “seems true” is “a totally not true thing that can be easily mistaken for truth.” If you have heard me speak at a convention or read my books and articles, you know I believe that satisfaction may be the goal of the average person, but it is the enemy of greatness. Those who aspire to never stop getting better are the most engaged and, as a result, successful people.


Yes, as ridiculous as that sounds when you say it (as you can see, it looks even weirder in print), you need to get an employee to want to be engaged before it can happen. That means explaining to employees the worthlessness of being so content with what you have that you have no desire for things to ever improve. That satisfaction is simply not sustainable from an employer’s standpoint. It’s nothing more than treading water, which might seem harmless enough. But soon you realize that treading water is not only just “controlled drowning” but that it also in fact attracts sharks! A company of satisfied employees will literally be eaten alive by the competition. So now that I have exhausted that metaphor, I will be more direct: The only way you can sustain the feeling of satisfaction is to live in the joy of continuous improvement.


It’s hard to feel valuable if you’re just trying to anesthetize your growing pains by not growing. It’s true that people feel valued when you focus on their strengths and when they can see their input in your solutions. But beyond those basics, to make people feel really valuable, they need to know that your desire for them to improve is what’s best for them. So it’s more than just “get this done right.” It’s about showing them how getting it right is good for them personally.


Many young people these days are asking a valid, intelligent question. Is working hard really worth it? And with the world now in a state-of-plague mind-set, you can multiply the number of people thinking that way times a thousand. Working hard because it’s what you’re supposed to do does not really resonate with people right now. People like to “chill” (which apparently means relaxing with your hair uncombed, doing some self-care, and going nowhere). It’s part of modern culture—so much so that we even like to appear to be chilling when we are in fact on the go. It’s why you see people at the airport in their pajamas. Under current conditions, we literally have a license to chill as we wait things out.

With all that being said, what is the key to motivating today’s workforce to achieve at the highest level? It’s you, the boss. Research shows that people don’t work for companies; they work for their direct supervisors. So the first step is to make sure they know that you value them and really want them personally to succeed. In short, you have to actually care about them. That requires having compassion and understanding human behavior, which will allow you to forgive almost anyone. Today’s influential leaders practice compassion or forgiveness daily, whether naturally or by design.

People will be willing to accelerate their effort if they know that the one who’s asking them to improve their performance is someone who really cares about them, values what they believe in, and will forgive them if there’s a problem. It’s why we go home for Thanksgiving when it’s in no way technically convenient and why parents laugh when their kids throw up on them. It’s the manager who tells you it’s OK to leave early to pick up your daughter from soccer practice. It’s the leader who understands that the unthrilled look on your face about the new software is just you being you.

The bottom line: Leaders who truly care about their employees get total loyalty and peak performance even in our current unusual circumstances. Those who seek to give or achieve satisfaction without creating true engagement may end up producing complacency or, even worse, great resumes for people who’ll soon choose to be employed elsewhere. 

Garrison Wynn is Amazon bestselling author, nationally known keynote speaker, and former Fortune 500 leader who helps organizations create a culture of influence.

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