Secure Attachment: Another Positive Personality Trait

July 31, 2009

I’ve written previously about the value of understanding personalities and attitudes at work.  The two most important attitudes we need to be developing in our employees are satisfaction and commitment, and the personality trait I find the most useful to look for is locus of control

Secure attachment is another personality trait I think may be very valuable for us to attempt to discern in folks we work with.  This personality trait has its roots in the work of renowned psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth.  My colleagues and I use the term secure attachment to describe individuals that can work autonomously as well as with others when appropriate. 

A person with a secure attachment style exhibits a healthy pattern of behavior, manifested in the ability to work well alone or with others by forming flexible, reciprocal relationships with a variety of different people.  “Character and strength lie at the heart of autonomous and independent action,” (Simmons, Nelson, & Quick, 2003, p. 362).  This strength of character manifested in secure people helps them create a reliable social support network that they can tap in times of need and enables them to work effectively and comfortably if and when they are required to act alone. (Simmons, Gooty, Nelson, Little, 2009, p. 235).

In our study of 161 employees of an assisted living center and their supervisors, we found that secure attachment had a positive relationship with hope and trust, and a negative relationship with burnout.  Yet the only significant predictor of supervisor rated performance was trust in the supervisor.  This is an important point.

For the folks you supervise directly, their relationship with you is extremely important to their job performance.  Your employees with a secure attachment style are naturally good at forming relationships with a variety of people, including you.  These people that are good at working autonomously and forming healthy, supportive relationships with others probably require less of your attention.

It’s the folks that are not good at forming relationships with others that may require the most from you as a supervisor.  Remember, their relationship with you is critical for their performance, so you might have to take the initiative to invest more in the relationship, because they are less inclined to be able to do this well. 

Keep in mind that your employees that do not have a secure attachment style are not bad people; they are just different people with respect to this personality trait, which means they need something different from you.  See it for what it is – a personality trait and NOT a personality fault.  Frame the issue in a matter-of-fact manner and figure out what you need to do differently to help these employees succeed. 

The thing you control the most at work is your behavior, and your behavior has a huge impact on those around you.

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Comments (3)

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  1. Ed Batista says:

    Bret, if you haven’t read Robert Karen’s “Becoming Attached,” I recommend it highly. It’s a comprehensive overview of attachment theory, a history of Bowlby and Ainsworth’s work, *and* a thoughtful exploration of the principles in action in psychology, education and other fields. It’s all I’ve read on the topic, but it felt like taking an advance seminar from a great prof.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    I was not aware of that book, Ed, but I added it to my wish list. We are just begging to explore attachment at work. Thanks! Bret