Years ago, it was commonplace to measure satisfaction among stakeholder groups—it made logical sense to understand how satisfied people were with your organization. But, just because a person is satisfied doesn’t mean they are actively engaged with building the brand. This idea of being “engaged” with an organization has become common in the wider business world. One of the first areas that popularized the trend was the labor sector, as employers realized that engaged team members often meant a better bottom line and a more robust business.

With ease, senior living providers adopted the concept of employee engagement. Aging services operators, in particular, know and understand the benefits of having highly engaged employees—better care, decreased turnover, lower absenteeism, increased production, fewer quality incidents, etc. It really is a no-brainer for retirement communities to pay close attention to the key metric of engagement. However, employees at such organizations make up only half the picture.

About three years ago, the concept of retirement community resident engagement came about. This change marked a completely new understanding of the life of a resident at a senior living campus. Initially, providers were solely focused on the physical act of resident engagement—how many times a resident leaves their room, how many activities they participated in, the number of visitors they had last week, etc. These types of metrics are easy to measure and quantify, making them an obvious first choice. Yet, those measurements don’t capture the full picture. Just because a resident is participating in an activity doesn’t mean they are being actively fulfilled or making meaningful connections. Residents desire to have a voice in what is essentially the operation of their home, as well as their personal well-being. Because of this, it has become just as paramount to measure resident engagement as it has employee.

Residents aren’t employees though. It is to be expected that employees are personally responsible for their own level of engagement within an organization. Each individual is expected to make an appropriate contribution during their workday. As such, employee engagement is measured individually. Residents pose a different measurement challenge. For those who have voluntarily chosen to reside at your community, engagement isn’t as much about measuring individual feelings independently. Rather, it’s about how well a community supports its residents, providing opportunities for them to engage in life in a way that makes sense for them.

Let’s look at two residents—Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith, both living at the same community, both with the same opportunities for engagement.

Mr. Jones is the president of the resident association. He’s involved in various social clubs, is known by almost everyone, and has embraced community life to its fullest.

On the other hand, Mr. Smith can be found quietly spending his days in the library or walking the gardens. He frequently attends the spiritual services offered to him and has several close friends, and has never lodged a complaint with the administration.

Before we answer the question of whether or not both of these residents are engaged, consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. At the bottom-most levels, are basic satisfaction needs— food, safety, security. Higher up on the pyramid are the things we need to reach self-actualization—a sense of belonging and encouragement to pursue life meaning.

Would you agree that both Mr. Jones and Mr. Smith are engaged in their community? If you answered yes, you would be correct. Each is being allowed to live the life that makes sense for them, and age as they want. Some people are introverts and others are extroverts. There is no right or wrong way to age. Again and again, it is found that communities that support all types of aging are the most successful.

Measuring both engagement and satisfaction are necessary—one can’t operate without the other. Residents who aren’t satisfied will never be truly engaged, and residents who are engaged cannot stay that way unless they remain satisfied. Measuring only one or the other is like trying to earn loyalty without also addressing the issue of trust. Neither can exist unless the other is present.