Two factors affected satisfaction and job fulfilment. The first was whether their college cared about and valued them, making them feel secure. The second was how effectively senior managers communicated with staff and involved them in decision-making.
The study of 80 colleges by the Learning and Skills Development Agency, Listening to Staff, involved 10,000 people.
Researchers found that: "The profile of staff opinion that emerged from the survey gives considerable cause for concern. This is particularly so in general FEtertiary colleges. In our experience it is uncommon for average ratings to be as negative within a single organisation, and very rare for them to to be so negative across a whole sector."
Moreover, it is likely that the survey underestimates the views of more apathetic staff, and of those who doubted the value of the exercise. If anything, the researchers say, the true picture of staff opinion across the sector could be even more negative than the study shows.
The researchers found that where staff were valued and consulted, they usually took a positive view of other aspects of their job and the college. A majority of managers and other staff had a negative opinion about the effectiveness of communication in their own college. Staff perceptions of a college's management style determined whether or not they were valued. Feeling cared for or valued was not seen as "soft" management.
The survey suggests that what happens in colleges does make a substantial difference to staff attitudes. It also argues that these are not determined primarily by the external educational environment.
Jane Owen, development adviser at the agency and co-author of the report, said: "There is a clear message that the quality of communication and the degree to which staff are valued influences their overall attitudes to their job and employer - and that many colleges need to improve in this area.
"But there is a silver lining in this cloud of dissatisfaction. Most staff want to be involved in improving the college and the quality of education. So the goodwill is there."
'Listening to staff' by Peter Davies and Jane Owen, is available free from the LSDA. Tel: 020 7962 1066.