Relationship Management I: Attachment in the Workplace
Posted on 14th July 2022 at 14:47
Effective relationship management has always been one of the most critical factors that contributes to a company’s success.
When employees feel a sense of trust with their managers, leaders and peers within their company, this can improve employee morale, performance and engagement with their work and the wider organisation.
This month, we’re sharing the first part of our relationship management series. We break down some of the theory behind key relationship management strategies, to help businesses foster the best relationships within their team.
A key factor for effective employee – employer relationships is ensuring employees feel they can access their line manager, allow their voice to be heard, and seek help and advice when it’s needed. This allows employees to feel supported and valued in their work. This might look like having an open-door policy in your office, or setting some ‘office hours’ where staff know they can drop in and run things by you at specific times in the week.
Employers can sometimes be wary of offering such access – what if employees become overly reliant on their manager’s advice or approval, which leads to less independent styles of working? It might seem counter-intuitive, but the opposite is actually true. Evidence suggests that the more access and communication you offer employees, the greater chance that employees develop the confidence to work independently.
You may have heard of attachment theory in relation to parent-child relationships. A secure attachment is formed when a child knows the parent consistently meets their needs most of the time. So, as the child develops and begins to explore the world around them, they know they have a ‘secure base’ to return to if they encounter anything that is perceived as a threat or unfamiliar. Research has shown multiple benefits of secure attachments, including reduced risk of mental health difficulties, higher levels of problem solving and better emotional regulation.
How it applies in the workplace
Let’s relate this to the employer – employee dynamic, with the employer as the attachment figure for the employee. We certainly aren’t saying that employers need to act like an employee’s parent and the employee needs to take on the role of a child - this can actually be detrimental to the relationship (we talk about this more in the upcoming Part II blog on Transactional Analysis). However, there are some helpful ways to consider how attachment plays out in the workplace.
If employees are aware that their manager is supportive with a coaching style, this will help employees grow in confidence to solve problems and manage their workload independently. The obverse is also true – if a manager appears distant, uninterested, or lacking in encouragement, this can lead to greater employee anxiety and create a culture where employees doubt their abilities and lose focus on what they should be doing. This in turn can lead employees to be insecure about their relationships with their manager, and so seek out more approval and permission from them.
This explains why strategies such as recognise and reward can have such a positive influence on employee – employer relationships. Just like a parent expressing interest and joy when a child says their first word or they start to walk, employers who take time to notice an employee’s achievements and regularly praise their workers is developing a similar ‘secure attachment’ relationship. Consistency is key here – if employees are praised for some tasks and not others, this can lead to greater insecurity and create a culture of uncertainty in the relationship. Like children who need their needs met consistently to feel safe, employees need regular and consistent encouragement to reach their full potential as effective and engaged workers.
This also explains why regular check-ins, such as one-to-one meetings, are paramount to improve employee morale and performance. Meetings like this show employees that you are invested in them as a person, not just a means to an end to get jobs done. This also has major benefits for organisations. By getting to know your employee’s skillset and interests, more than just how they are performing in their role, you can tap into their potential and grow your organisation in ways you might not have considered.
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