Conventional wisdom suggests that those with a job during this prolonged economic downturn would be happy to have it. However, research shows almost half of employees aren’t happy at work, and that it’s costing employers.

"Employee engagement" —  defined as employees knowing what to do and wanting to do it — remains low, according to a recent survey by Sibson Consulting. Employees who were considered to be engaged represented only 52 percent of those surveyed.

The good news for employers is that they may be able to improve employee engagement through their own actions. The most-engaged employees linked their positive work attitude directly to management, the consulting company found. Support of the employee, understanding of performance management, trust in management, and performance management effectiveness were given as the top four reasons for employee engagement.

Better engaging employees has a direct effect on a company's bottom line, according to additional new research on employee perceptions of work conditions.

Psychological scientist James K. Harter, a Gallup Inc. researcher in Nebraska,  said he examined 10 companies' employee satisfaction surveys, employee retention rates, customer loyalty, and financial performance, and was able to determine how employee satisfaction influenced overall company performance. The results indicated that if employees have positive perceptions of their jobs, their organizations experience higher employee retention, increased customer loyalty, and improved financial outcomes. Harter's research was presented in the Perspectives on Psychological Science.

One way managers can help boost job satisfaction and help their organization may be to “clarify expectations for employees by helping employees see the ultimate outcomes the organization is working to achieve and how they play a role in achieving those outcomes,” Harter said.