Dysfunctional employees? It could be attachment issues.

Topic: Stress, Turnover, Citizenship Behavior
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Attachment at (Not to) Work: Applying Attachment Theory to Explain Individual Behavior in Organizations
Authors: D. A. Richards A.C.H. Schat
Reviewed By: Neil Morelli

People seem to inherently know that a job isn’t just about where you work, but also who you work with. Recent research has helped validate this feeling by studying how our behavior at work is partly determined by how attached, or unattached, we become to the people we work with. Specifically, attachment theory states that people are naturally motivated to associate with others in tough times, and the quantity and quality of this attachment is largely dependent on early life experiences.  For example, those who are “securely attached” tend to exhibit strong self worth and a trust of others.  At work, these attachment types help explain how we behave when presented with a challenging task or stressful moment.

 

Richards and Schat (2011) defined people who are considered to be “insecurely” attached as either being anxiously attached or avoidantly attached.  Anxiously attached people are those who have a low view of themselves and are thus the “needy and clingy” type, whereas the avoidantly attached have a low view of others and are thus distant and mistrusting. Either type demonstrates an inability to deal with adversity or effectively garner support from others.

After determining that there is a clear distinction between these two poor attachment styles, it was discovered that anxious types are more likely to rely on others for support, less likely to contribute through “extra” effort, and more likely to want to leave when faced with challenges; when avoidant types are faced with challenges they are more likely to put on a strong face, regulate emotions, and look to themselves instead of others for support.

What does this mean for the average worker? People deal with the stressors of the job in different ways. For those with avoidant attachment, providing large amounts of support might not always be the most profitable method; for the anxiously attached, fostering meaningful relationships with others may help to increase their ability to become better organizational citizens. Employees are people, and people are social creatures—thus, it’s important to know the different ways we need others to help us get through the day.

Richards, D. A., & Schat, A. C. H. (2011). Attachment at (not to) work: Applying attachment theory to explain individual behavior in organizations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(1), 169-182.