Is Engagement the Key to Workplace Happiness?

How can organizations contribute towards creating a happier working environment and achieving a win-win result for both their employees and their bottom line? Is it about employee happiness, engagement or both?

Is Engagement the Key to Workplace Happiness?

20 Mar 2017 by  Elias Dib

In the last 12 months, the concept of achieving happiness has been high on the Middle East agenda. There has been a lot of talk around providing a nurturing environment for the happiness of a person, family and community. The question is; how can organizations contribute towards creating a happier working environment and achieving a win-win result for both their employees and their bottom line? Is it about employee happiness, engagement or both?

Happiness is not engagement

Although there is a clear link between the two, happiness is not engagement. Traditionally organizations have attempted to assess their employees’ happiness through satisfaction surveys, to measure the work climate and determine what can be done to better motivate and retain them. However, organizations realized that actions taken to only increase happiness did not result in the desired behavior change or improvements in turnover, productivity or business performance.

Leading organizations sought a more quantitative and robust approach to link employee attitude measures with behavior and business measures. This led to the methodology we now know as Employee Engagement, defined as the level of an employee’s emotional and psychological investment in their organization, reflecting the employee’s willingness to “Say” positive things about the organization, “Stay” for a long time and “Strive” to give their best efforts to help the organization succeed.

“We pay our employees high salaries as compared to the market, so we are confident they will not leave. Our employees are certainly engaged, right?” Wrong…

An employee might be happy with certain elements of the workplace, which lead to their retention. For example, a manager who is paid a generous salary might be happy with their “Rewards and Recognition” and therefore won’t be actively looking for a job elsewhere. However, this does not mean they are going to ‘Say’ positive things about the organization, ‘Stay’ for a long time and ‘Strive’ to give their best efforts. Even if they are happy with their salary, they might still speak negatively about the firm to external recruiters (reflecting low Say behavior), have the willingness to change jobs for a minimal increase in salary (reflecting low Stay behavior) and remain excessively concerned with leaving work on time even during busy periods (reflecting low Strive behavior). Regardless of this employee’s specific happiness with the “Rewards and Recognition” they are receiving, such displayed poor behaviors would negatively affect business outcomes.

To drive business outcomes, employees need to be happy with the entire work experience

Aon Hewitt has identified 15 dimensions critical to having an effective workplace – overall happiness/satisfaction with these dimensions will in turn drive employees’ engagement and consequently the business outcomes. These dimensions are Employee Value Proposition (EVP), Brand, Career Opportunities, Collaboration, Diversity & Inclusion, Empowerment/Autonomy, Enabling Infrastructure, Learning & Development, Supervision, Performance Management, Rewards & Recognition, Senior Leadership, Talent & Staffing, Work Tasks, and Work Life Balance.



What differentiates Best Employers from the general market organizations is their ability to drive overall happiness/satisfaction with all the dimensions whilst the general market organizations are usually able to deliver only on few of these dimensions.

Final thoughts

What can be controlled and influenced with appropriate effort is how employees show up for work and how effectively they are enabled to get their work done. That is one of the main reasons why organizations that value their employees and treat them as their most important asset are:

  • ensuring that they are creating an overall happy work experience, capable of driving employee engagement and business performance

  • creating “continuous listening” strategies to have a full understanding of the employee experience starting from the initial stages of recruitment and orientation all the way through to exit.

Elias Dib

Elias Dib is a Partner at Aon Hewitt and leads the Employee Engagement solution across the Middle East & Africa. His areas of expertise lie in Employee Engagement, Talent Management, Leadership Assessment and Development, Total Rewards, and Employee Communication. With 20 years of Middle East experience, Elias partners with major regional clients to assist them attract, engage, and reward talent, uncover ways to reduce their HR costs and develop comprehensive solutions that improve their bottom line.

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