CHAPTER 3The Social Context of Work Life: Implications for Burnout and Work Engagement

Michael P. Leiter and Naomi Stright

Centre for Organizational Research & Development, Acadia University, Canada

The psychological connections of people with their work range from the drudgery of burnout to the vibrant experience of work engagement. Between these two extremes lies a continuum of experience that encompasses the more commonplace range of dull days and good days at work. A large body of research details a diverse set of environmental conditions that influence that experience. In this chapter we focus on social relationships at work. We consider research on employees’ interactions with one another, with their organizational leaders, and with the larger organization. We consider the impact of unpleasant interactions on employees’ emotional well-being and the benefit of social support at work. We conclude by reflecting on the potential of social relationships as targets for interventions designed to enhance the quality of work life.


Burnout is a chronic problem reflecting uneasy relationships between people and their work (Maslach & Leiter, 2005). It is a psychological syndrome involving three key dimensions: exhaustion–energy, cynicism–involvement, and inefficacy–efficacy (Maslach, Schaufeli & Leiter, 2001; Maslach & Leiter, 2008). Exhaustion captures feeling overextended, including depleted physical and emotional resources. Cynicism describes a ...

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