Attachment Styles & Incivility at Work

Turin Cops

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?

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2 Responses to Attachment Styles & Incivility at Work

  1. Heriberto says:

    Dear Dr. Leiter:

    It is a pleasure to read your post and your article in this moment when I´m working again in Psycosocial Risks Management and I’ve been asked to analyse relationships among employees of a small detention center for young offenders.

    We´ve detect different groups with different attitudes toward the work and the directive team, and other employees.

    Your article will be very useful to me, because attachment styles explain how complex could be to generate general guidelines of work performance in our institution.


    • Michael says:


      So good to hear from you!

      I’m pleased that you find the idea useful.

      It is important to understand how strained relationships at work continue without anyone intending to cause trouble. My hope is that if people understand their own feelings of anxiety and avoidance, they will be able to sustain better working relationships with their colleagues.


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Canada’s answer to improving worklife!

Michael Leiter

Dr. Michael Leiter, co-author of Banishing Burnout and The Truth about Burnout, is set to release his newest book on Work Engagement. Dr. Leiter founded the Canadian Centre for Organizational Research & Development and has researched organizational behaviour for more than two decades. He knows how to improve an organization’s bottom line (productivity and profitability by improving its top line - people. In fact, he and his co-author coined the term "work engagement" as the antithesis to burnout!

Over the years, Dr. Leiter has worked closely with a host of researchers, including Dr. Christine Maslach, creator of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), and most recently, with Dr. Arnold Bakker on work engagement. Now, through work with the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) - the largest integrated health care system in the U.S. - Dr. Leiter has the CREW Solution.

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