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Attachment Styles in the Workplace

Attachment styles have historically been helpful in explaining how our bond with our primary caregiver, impacts the bonds we create with our romantic partners and other relationships. The focus is rapidly shifting to help us understand how our attachment style affects the relationships we create in the workplace and our potential to be well-rounded leaders. 

A large portion of our time is spent in the office or in constant communication with those we work with. A lack of understanding of what to expect from your employees and employer can create a barrier to fully optimizing their strengths while being aware of their weaknesses.  We often make the mistake of identifying attachment styles and creating an unhealthy label for ourselves and others, leading to a stigma around this concept. Instead of holding on to this label, we can use the information to create realistic expectations of leadership and coworkers. 

To take advantage of this information, we must first understand attachment styles. This theory by John Bowlby focuses on the attachment we build as soon as we are born, and the perception of basic needs being met by the primary caregiver. When the emotional and physiological needs of the baby are met, this child is likely to have a secure attachment as a child and adult. However, if the child perceives their emotional and physiological needs to not be met, the child is likely to become insecurely attached. 

The main insecure attachment types are anxious, avoidant, and disorganized in children. In adults, these attachments are known as preoccupied, dismissive, and fearful-avoidant. For disorganized, fearful-avoidant in adults, studies have shown that these individuals show inconsistent behavior between anxious and avoidant attachment. 

A secure attachment in the workplace comes with many benefits. As leaders, they can work objectively while also being sensitive to the needs and feelings of their team. Allowing them to focus not only on the well-being of the employees but also on their professional development. As employees, they feel comfortable creating strong bonds and contributing positively to the work environment. Employees with a secure attachment, often report high satisfaction with their role and trust towards their supervisor and leadership. 

With insecure attachments, you are presented with some challenges and areas where they are highly effective and skillful. As leaders, they tend to provide inconsistent support to their team. The inconsistency in leadership is likely to activate the attachment system in employees. Avoidant leaders are seen as insensitive and less likely to be available for their team. Anxious leaders are less likely to develop the independence needed to be strong leaders. 

As employees, those who have anxious attachments seek to be liked by everyone and conform to the group decision. Due to their negative view of the self, they have a strong fear of negative feedback. Appreciation and praise for their work will contribute to validating their value in the team. If they lack validation, they have a higher risk of burnout and feeling under-appreciated in their role.  Anxious individuals are hyper-alert and better at detecting and responding to threats. They are always looking for ways to improve and create less friction in the workplace. 

Avoidant employees are not seeking the approval of the group or rely on social support. Unlike anxious individuals, they have a positive view of the self but a negative perception of the people they work with. This is heavily attributed to the lack of trust they have in others.  They work well on their own and value independent work. They contribute greatly to the productivity and overall focus of the team, having a result-focus orientation. 

Leaders have found a team composed of employees with different attachment styles to have many benefits and yield the best results overall. Attachment styles in the workplace continue to be relatively new and growing in interest. However, it helps predict and prepare for the needs of your employees. It’s important to remember that attachment styles can change. It takes awareness, time, and effort to rewire your perception and develop a secure attachment to fully access your potential in the workplace.

Priority will continue to remain in the steps necessary to create a safe space in the workplace and create outlets to educate yourself further on mental health and how it impacts your abilities as a leader and employee. Learn more about mental health under our website’s additional webinars.

Contact the team at Gateway to hope for training and other resources for your organization.