When we look at adult attachment patterns, we most often focus on how a person’s attachment style affects their relationships, specifically partner and parent/child relationships. But we also know that our attachment style can affect how we function in every interpersonal relationship and every aspect of our daily lives, including in the workplace.

Think about how you interact with your co-workers or your boss. Are there aspects of how you act and respond in these relationships that interfere with your professional success? Or is your approach to your workplace interactions helping you be more responsive and get the job done more efficiently? Both your challenges and your strengths in your on-the-job relationships may be influenced by your attachment style.

Adult Attachment

Attachment styles learned in childhood tend to endure throughout life. Thus, each of the four childhood attachment styles has a corresponding adult version.

Securely attached children become autonomous adults, who are comfortable in warm, loving, and emotionally close relationships. They are calmer and more confident, have less depression and anxiety, have a more positive outlook, sustain a deeper sense of meaning and purpose, are able to maintain reciprocal relationships, and are better able to cope with life’s challenges and hardships, as compared to those lacking secure connections.

  • Anxiously attached children develop into preoccupied adults, chronically insecure, needy, and worried about abandonment.
  • Avoidantly attached children become dismissive adults, who are distant and rejecting in their intimate relationships.
  • Children with disorganized attachment, a result of severe maltreatment, become unresolved adults, who display PTSD symptoms, cannot tolerate emotional closeness, and have serious psychosocial problems.

How do the 4 attachment styles tend to show up in the workplace?

An article by the The Attachment Project provides a helpful overview.

  • Secure/autonomous – Securely attached adults work well with others. They are confident in their work and are not led by fear. This allows them to manage their time well, complete tasks, deal with issues as they come up and respond well to feedback and constructive criticism. Research shows that these employees tend to have positive feelings about their coworkers and experience more job satisfaction.

    Benefits of secure attachment in the workplace:

Courtesy of The Attachment Project

  • Anxious/preoccupied – Anxiously attached employees tend to struggle with the overwhelming need for approval and fear of rejection in the workplace. They seek constant reassurance and perceive negative bias. Their emotions can get in the way of getting the job done because feedback from clients, co-workers or employers is seen as a personal attack – not as a path to improvement. They may also start or be involved in workplace drama and gossip.

    Pros and cons of anxious attachment in the workplace:

Courtesy of The Attachment Project

  • Avoidant/dismissive – These employees tend to be hyper-independent and prefer to work alone. They don’t form close workplace relationships. So, while they may be efficient workers, focused on completing tasks, they may not be enthusiastic team players.

    Pros and cons of avoidant attachment in the workplace:

Courtesy of The Attachment Project

  • Disorganized/unresolved – An unresolved mindset stemming from trauma or past dysfunctional relationships may drive these individuals to exhibit a lack of empathy and disregard for rules in the workplace. Unable to accept emotional closeness, they may be argumentative and have difficulty controlling their emotions. At the same time, their fear prompts them to avoid tasks and issues and gets in the way of completing work. They often feel overwhelmed and may be quick to give up when faced with workplace challenges. These individuals likely experience a combination of the workplace struggles that avoidant and anxious employees face.

If you are experiencing problems with your interpersonal relationships at work, recognizing your attachment style can be a first, valuable step toward making positive change. Being aware of your tendencies can help you pause and reflect before you act or react. You may also want to consider seeking support from a qualified mental health professional in exploring your attachment issues so that you can be your best self at work.