Even when workers are passionate about the day-to-day tasks involved in their jobs, they won't be engaged in the workplace unless they click with their immediate bosses and trust in how senior executives are leading the company.
Those are among the conclusions of a recently released study by Dale Carnegie Training that sought to determine what drives employee engagement. Besides workers' relationship with their supervisors and how they feel about management, the survey found that pride in the company is the third critical factor that contributes to engagement.
Rather than attempt to measure how engagement impacts the company's bottom line or workers' productivity, the survey tried to dig down and identify the emotions that help employees feel a stronger commitment to their employers.
"Engagement increases dramatically with four variables: enthusiasm, confidence, empowerment and inspiration," said David Fagiano, chief operating officer of Dale Carnegie, a leadership consulting business based in Hauppauge, N.Y.
"There's a strong correlation between people who felt those emotions and their engagement," he said. "If as a supervisor you can instill those, [your employees] can really outperform for you."
The study polled 1,500 workers ages 18 to over 61 between February and April 2012.
Nearly half, or 49 percent, who said they were satisfied with their direct manager also felt engaged in the workplace while 80 percent who were "very dissatisfied" with the boss felt disengaged overall at work.
Among those who were confident with senior leadership's abilities, 61 percent said they were fully engaged at work.
Leaders can instill trust in their strategies by fostering open communication and seeking feedback from employees, Mr. Fagiano said. Some ways to do that include making the corporate mission clear to all workers and getting them involved in long-term planning and letting them know outcomes.
At a company where Mr. Fagiano once worked with about 1,000 employees, "We involved them all -- from janitors to senior vice presidents -- in planning. You can't give this lip service. It could be a killer if you say, 'Tell me what you think about X,' and then I don't get back to you."
The study found the highest levels of engagement among individuals who were on the job for five years or less.
"There's the newness of the job and the excitement of being out doing new things," Mr. Fagiano said. Among workers who are 50 to 60 years old, that enthusiasm "trails off."
"Things become kind of old hat, and they become less engaged. When you're young you feel immortal, and when you're 60 there are not that many doors open."
A place where employee engagement may soon be tested is Yahoo, the Silicon Valley Internet company whose chief executive, Marissa Mayer, recently told employees they will have to work regularly in the office, not at home.
"There's a huge trust issue there," Mr. Fagiano said. "The major issue is that it's such a radical change. You were doing X and now you're told to do Y. That's a 180-degree turn."
Some Yahoo employees are likely wondering why Ms. Mayer or other senior managers didn't seek their opinions about the pros and cons of working from home, Mr. Fagiano said.
"Whether it's the right or wrong decision, it probably won't help with engagement levels," he said.