“Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light,” writes Albert Schweitzer.

Have you ever had a boss or mentor who believed in your potential, even in moments when you doubted yourself? Or maybe there was a co-worker who helped you get through a time of adjustment or difficulty when you wondered whether you would make it?

These acts of leadership can change the course of an individual’s life, and when combined, they can change the course of an organization.

In the context of the workplace, we might think of an inner light that is burning bright as high employee engagement, while thinking of one that has dimmed to a faint flicker as a symbol of disengagement or burnout.

According to Gallup, companies with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee in 2010 – 2011 experienced 147% higher EPS (earnings per share) compared with their competition. Companies with an average of 2.6 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee, in contrast, experienced 2% lower EPS compared with their competition during that same period.

There is no doubt that engagement is a significant factor impacting productivity, performance and profitability, yet there is something greater at stake as well. In the words of Mark Fernandes, what’s at stake is “the precious lives of our employees that have been placed in our care.”

With so much on the line, what can we do to make sure our team members are burning bright?

Christina Maslach, a researcher who has pioneered the topic of burnout and engagement for the past 40 years, developed a model with engagement and burnout as two poles on a continuum, defined by three qualities.


Burnout Engagement
Exhausted Energetic
Cynical Involved
Perceive self as ineffective Perceive self as effective


In a 2003 study, Maslach and co-author Michael P. Leiter identified 6 areas of worklife that impact these 3 qualities. Their model outlines what can be done on the organizational level to create an environment that promotes engagement. The authors argue that engagement is not as simple as determining whether the right person is matched up with the right job at the time of initial employment. Nor is it simply a matter of matching appropriate job tasks to individual personality. Instead, Leiter and Maslach describe a “psychological environment in which people perceive and experience the world of work” (129).


The questions below highlight the 6 work areas and provide an initial way to assess how the environment might be impacting an individual’s engagement level.

  1. Workload – Do you feel confident that you have the capacity to handle your workload?
  1. Control – Do you feel that you can influence and participate in decisions related to shaping your work life?
  1. Reward – Do you feel that you receive recognition, appreciation and rewards (financial, social, intrinsic) in proportion to your contributions?
  1. Community – Do you feel that you have social support and positive interaction at work?
  1. Fairness – Do you perceive that decisions are made in a fair way and people are treated with respect?
  1. Values – Do you feel that your values align with the values of your organization?

Taken together, these 6 areas of worklife create an environment where we are likely to engage or disengage. Considering that in 2014, 51.5% of American workers were not engaged and 18.8% were actively disengaged, these are questions worth asking (Gallup).

These striking numbers indicate that a tremendous leadership opportunity awaits us.

If we could create environments where all those lights could be reignited, imagine the impact on profit, performance and productivity, and above all, on the precious lives they represent.



Nicole Pallai

Nicole Pallai

As a leadership development coach and consultant, Nicole partners with high performing professionals to optimize their energy management, stress resilience and productivity so they can sustain a high impact career over the long term while living life to the fullest. Her coaching framework integrates proven techniques from sports/performance psychology, positive psychology and neuroscience to form a cutting edge and highly individualized approach to optimal performance, energy and stress management, well-being and work-life balance. It’s her passion to answer the challenge of the loss of talent and human potential due to increasing rates of workplace burnout and chronic stress. She believes that with the right skills, awareness and support, every person can live their full potential, regardless of the challenges they face.

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