Why Happiness at Work Trumps Employee Engagement and Job Satisfaction

Last Friday, I had another chance to share the benefits of happiness at work – this time with 20 members of the Douglas County, OR, Society for Human Resource Management. There was a diverse group of organizations represented – from Roseburg Forest Products, the News Review, Umpqua Dairy Products and Ingram Book Company to the Umpqua Indian Development Corp.

As defined, happiness at work is a mindset that allows you to maximize your performance and achieve your potential.

During the two hours we shared, there was discussion about the difference between happiness at work, employee engagement and job satisfaction. Fortunately, I am familiar with recent research on just that topic, so I shared the latest facts.

The concepts are related, yet very different different. One thing is certain: happiness at work is a stronger predictor of performance than engagement or satisfaction. And that’s important because performance is what you really want on the job. Here’s the paradox: people who report high levels of happiness at work also report high job satisfaction and high engagement. But people with high engagement or job satisfaction are not always happy.

How can that be? You might be strongly self-motivated and power through the challenges at work (high engagement), but you may not be happy. Nor will you be satisfied with your job. (In fact, this is often the situation with executives. And this is a good predictor of intention to quit.) This suggests that happiness at work is a bigger and more important concept than employee engagement or job satisfaction. We know the drivers of happiness at work, and we can measure them quite accurately for individuals and teams. Job satisfaction and engagement don’t lend themselves to such definitive measurement. These two concepts are more closely tied to organizational attitudes that are extremely hard to interpret or influence. These typical questions illustrate this point: “My manager helps me engage with my work” and “As an employee, how satisfied are you with your work?” Engagement and job satisfaction are typically seen as driven by the top down. I believe that happiness at work is a joint responsibility of managers and employees.

Keep in mind that job satisfaction and engagement are older concepts that were developed in the ’60s and ’70s when the workplace was very different. They are based on research that occurred inside organizations whose structures were more hierarchical and had more of a command and control approach. This doesn’t jibe in today’s flatter, lean-and-mean organizations that rely more on knowledge work.

Happiness at work takes the traditional measures of employee engagement and job satisfaction to a deeper and more practical place, with outcomes of greater performance, leading to higher levels of productivity and profits.




  1. Thanks for posting this article. Made me think. A couple of questions/comments if you have the opportunity or interest to consider/respond to:
    1. Happiness was defined as a “mindset,” what are the core characteristics/aspects of this mindset?
    2. What specific outcomes has happiness been connected to?
    3. What research supports happiness as more predictive of performance than engagement? I have seen research that contradicts that- stating that just because you are happy, doesn’t mean you are productive.
    4. Engagement was a term coined in the early 90s and is still evolving- I don’t know that I would consider it outdated just yet.



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