The GAP Model For Employee Happiness And Satisfaction

man in black suit holding a clipboard beside a woman in black blazer
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on

Experience, Satisfaction, Happiness – what’s common here?

These are all perceptions. The level of achievement is driven by perceptions – perception of the doer and perception of the receiver.

Be it business – customer relationship or employer – employee relationship, perception mismatch is common. And it is obvious. There are GAPS.

The narrower the gap, the better it is.

There are three gaps in the employer – employee relation:

  1. The Interpretation Gap – the gap in interpreting office communication
  2. The Knowledge Gap – the gap in expected skills and job responsibilities
  3. The Perception Gap – the gap in expected and actual experience at work

The Interpretation Gap

This is the gap between what the employer’s communication promises to employees and what the employees think was promised in the communication.

Several instances of mismatch in interpretations lead to erosion of trust in the employer – employee relationship.

What’s worrying is that this is mostly unintentional.

Careless, unplanned and open-loop communication cause the interpretation gap.

On many occasions, managers or leaders are in a hurry to make an announcement. This could be about proposed employee benefits, incentive schemes or something as simple as a planned team offsite.

The Interpretation Gap Comic.
Comic Strip – The Interpretation Gap

It’s the adrenalin rush to be the conveyer of the office breaking news.

Words are not chosen carefully – both inclusions and exclusions. Riders are not covered in the announcement. It’s like selling an insurance policy and missing out on sharing the fine print of inclusions and exclusions.

I’ve often come across interpretation gap in communicating incentive schemes.

Example – sales incentive:

  • What qualifies as an account closed – contract signed or money received?
  • Does the sales rep earn equal incentive for all deals irrespective of the lead source? Or are there varying percentages based on source of the new lead
  • New business from new customer. And, new business from existing customers. Are these the same? Or are there some exclusions?

Important communication, verbal or written, needs to be:

  • Planned and revised. Mr. Francis, my English teacher at school always made us revise each essay thrice. That’s a good thumb rule.
  • Validated by all concerned stakeholders. Example – sales incentive schemes need to be checked and approved by the CEO, Sales Director, Finance and HR
  • Closed-Looped. Once a communication is shared, check the interpretation. Ask employees to rephrase what they’ve understood. Ask if there are doubts or questions. Include FAQs.

 The Knowledge Gap

This is the gap between management’s expectations and employee perception.

What the boss expects the employee to do? And, what the employee thinks she needs to do?

This again is quite common. Starts from hiring. We have vanilla job descriptions used during recruitment and headhunting. The employee gets a real taste of the expectations the day she joins the organization. In some cases, not until a few weeks into the job.

Example: the management may expect the marketing team to test the responsiveness of the new landing page for their annual sales campaign on all devices and browsers.

The marketing team may however assume that the landing page working on the latest version of Chrome, Android and iOS would suffice.

The discrepancy is highlighted when an investor or a top client calls to complain that the landing page does not load correctly on her Microsoft Edge or Safari browser.

All hell breaks loose. The blame game and witch hunt starts.

Why didn’t someone notice?

This is the knowledge gap.

The gap between management expectation and employee perception.

Solution – quite similar to interpretation gap. Ensure planned, validated, approved and closed-loop communication.

The Perception Gap

This is the gap between the expected and experienced levels of satisfaction, opportunities and overall experience at work.

Employees, new or existing, may expect learning and career advancement opportunities at work. This may be due to positive image of the brand – on business networks, media and forums.

However, they may not experience the same. They may struggle with job promotions despite good performance at work. They may not be nominated for company sponsored training workshops.

Another example may be the expectation of a handsome salary raise. The company may have done well in the previous financial year. And the industry may be on a growth trajectory. However, the actual raise may be below par and below expectations.

Again, communication is the key. Two way communication. Ask, explore, probe what the employees think. Plan, validate and monitor what people in managerial and leadership positions convey.

Narrowing and closing these gaps will help build a stronger employer – employee bond. Got any tips. Do share in the comments.

And please subscribe to my blog and contribute in creating happier workplaces.

Happy Employees, Happy Customers, Winning Businesses.

By Nitesh Verma

Founder - Business Management Blog. I am an independent business strategy consultant, helping companies take data driven business decisions. My mission is to find and implement simple solutions for complex business problems.

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