Engagement & wellbeing at work:
Could your attachment style be linked to your career success?
Article written by Amelia Twiss, MPsych MISCP, Coaching Psychologist
Most people have heard of attachment styles, but are you aware of how your own attachment style could be impacting your engagement and wellbeing at work?
Bowlby’s theory of attachment styles is a way of describing our emotional bonds with others. Attachment styles formed in childhood have implications for how we relate to others as adults and research is looking at what this means in the workplace.
UNDERSTANDING ATTACHMENT STYLES
A secure attachment style sees that others are viewed positively and that they can be relied on for support. At work, securely attached individuals are likely to demonstrate resilience and be open to offering and receiving support. Avoidant-attachment is where someone has limited interest in connecting with others or in seeking or offering support and has been linked to lower organisational commitment and increased turnover intention. Anxious-attachment is when an individual has a negative view of themselves which results in them experiencing anxiety in personal relationships, along with attempts to seek approval from others. Recent research suggests that individuals with an anxious attachment style are more prone to burnout out, which in turn leads to poorer outcomes at work.
ENGAGEMENT & JOB DEMANDS
Engagement at work can be understood in terms of positive activation towards the demands of your job. A lack of job resources relative to high job demands is what leads to burnout. In those with anxious attachment styles, it appears that in addition to high job demands, personal demands are a contributing factor towards burnout. Personal demands from the anxious attachment style perspective include fears of rejection and a sense of vulnerability in the workplace. This can result perfectionism, workaholism and high expectations of their own performance – attempts to win the approval of others and secure their place in the organisational community. Thus, the anxiously attached employee expends energy and resources seeking approval from others and themselves, which adds to their emotional load at work, increasing their susceptibility to burnout.
ENGAGEMENT, BURNOUT & ATTACHMENT STYLES
ATTACHMENT STYLES AT WORK
From an organisational perspective, it is not only the demands of the role and resources available to deliver these that are important. The attachment style of individual employees appears to be influential in determining whether they are more likely to experience engagement or burnout.
- Creating psychologically safe workplaces where autonomy and feedback are cultivated contributes to engagement and reduces the risk of burnout.
- Understanding that anxious attachment styles are more likely to be triggered in high stress situations, organisations that prioritise wellbeing practices can reduce the risk of burnout in employees more susceptible to stress due to their attachment orientation.
- Fostering a supportive and inclusive workplace helps less secure individuals to experience a sense of belonging, thereby reducing susceptibility to burnout.
If you are curious about your own attachment style and how this may be impacting your career, or if you are a manager who would like to understand attachment styles from a team perspective, consider working with a psychologist or your Employee Assistance Provider.
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