CFIR takes your physical and emotional self-care seriously. CLICK HERE to read more about our statement to our clients regarding COVID-19

Attachment Styles in the Workplace

by: Edgar Prudcoi, B.A. 

Do you often struggle with specific difficulties at work and have a hard time understanding where they stem from? Whether it is a consistent difficulty saying ‘no’ to a superior when you feel overworked or having challenges sharing your ideas in a meeting, how we experience and relate to ourselves and others within the workplace affects our overall well-being and career satisfaction. Workplace stress and difficulties we face can be influenced by our unique levels of attachment anxiety and avoidance. 

From a young age and into adulthood, we develop an attachment style that serves as a subconscious mental program that influences the way we perceive and relate to ourselves and others. Our attachment styles shape our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours automatically and often without much conscious awareness. Our attachment style ultimately presents itself in the workplace in various ways; knowing our style can help us improve our work-related functioning and overcome the difficulties we have while at work.

Here are descriptions and tips on how to deal with attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance in the workplace:

1) Anxious Attachment:

Anxiously attached individuals fear upsetting or disappointing people and have doubts about their worth or capabilities. This fear-based attachment style can show up at work through actions such as compulsively checking your email to make sure nothing is wrong, worrying about being liked or valued by colleagues, and seeking frequent feedback or reassurance about your performance. When you worry, the fight or flight mode generated by your nervous system hijacks you in those moments and makes it difficult to focus on accomplishing your work or feel positive emotions at work. 

How to manage anxious attachment at work:

Begin to work on creating a more positive and nurturing relationship with yourself and remind yourself of your abilities, worth, and accomplishments. Explore the parts of yourself that you, your colleagues, and superiors value about you and the evidence that you are an asset at work. 

Take a step back and approach circumstances and interactions at work by developing a positive and realistic self-dialogue rather than taking a critical view of yourself. Doing so may sound like, “the constructive feedback I received isn’t because I am a bad employee, I am doing my best, and now I know what I can improve on to become even better.” 

2) Avoidant Attachment:

Dismissive avoidant individuals may have a positive self-evaluation and a negative view of others as less capable, less intelligent, or unreliable. A fearfully avoidant person will have a fear of an attachment relationship and also a negative view of others as being undependable or untrustworthy. This fear can be experienced in the workplace by avoiding forming relationships because of mistrust or perceptions that you cannot rely on or depend on others. This also may lead to tendencies of micromanaging and monitoring employees and more likely dismissing input from others. If you have a fearfully avoidant attachment style, you may feel “stuck” with your work when you do not trust yourself or others with it. This feeling may show up as not getting started on a project because you feel incapable of completing it and lacking trust in sharing your difficulties with others, which may lead to developing a ‘why bother trying’ mentality. 

How to manage avoidant attachment at work: 

Acknowledge that others may also have valuable ideas or contributions. Approach colleagues and yourself with curiosity rather than judgment or defensiveness. Notice the tendency to put achievements ahead of relationships at work and be mindful of tending to both. Make sure to encourage yourself to communicate with others and develop trust to delegate work and ask for help. Be cautious of thoughts that suggest, “It will be better if I do it.” 

For fearfully avoidant attachments, try some tips discussed to manage the anxious attachment style while also making small and manageable steps to work through what it is you’re avoiding.

Are you ready to better understand and master the mental and emotional parts of striving for a successful career and a balanced life? CFIR’s mental health professionals can help! 

Edgar Prudcoi, B.A. is a therapist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Toronto and is working on completing his Masters degree in Clinical Psychology at the Adler Graduate Professional School. He supports individual adults and couples to deal with difficulties related to emotion (e.g., depression, anxiety, anger), the effects of trauma, loss and grief, conflict resolution, and relationship functioning.