I recently published the article, “Attachment styles at work: Measurement, collegial relationships, and burnout,” with Arla Day and Lisa Price to present a new measure of adult attachment styles with specific reference to social relationships at work. It is available as a free download from the Burnout Research journal site.
The big question I am pursuing with this concept is how to explain the wide range of reactions people have to an identical social setting. Within a specific workgroup, people report different experiences. Some report regular experiences of incivility while others never encounter any.
Part of that range could reflect a fragmented workgroup in which people talk with only a small number of their potential colleagues. Some are talking with respectful colleagues; others are talking with uncivil colleagues.
But part of the range could be a matter of perception. Perception is quite relevant to incivility because incivility is low intensity and not necessarily intended. The perceiver has latitude in deciding whether a colleague’s fleeting facial expression was a smirk or whether she was loosening something stuck in her teeth. Physical assault lacks that subtlety: contact either happened or it did not. With incivility, some may be more disposed to perceive incivility.
The appeal of attachment styles over big five personality concepts is that (1) attachment styles pertain directly to social perception and participation, and (2) attachment styles, although persistent, are seen as more susceptible to change than are personality types. Change is so much more interesting than life-long stability.
In the study we found attachment styles were closely related to the social encounters people reported to work. Also they were related to health care workers’ vulnerability to burnout.
How useful to you think attachment styles could be for understanding social dynamics at work?