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Adult Attachment Theory

The Science of Employee Engagement

Understanding Engagement

While Coan’s Social Baseline model points out how those who socialized in clans, groups, and tribes had significantly higher rates of survival (and efficiency with tasks), the remarkable research around adult attachment conducted by Dr. Susan Johnson in conjunction with Dr. Coan removes any ambiguity on the neurological benefits of safe and secure connections.

The science behind adult attachment clearly establishes that without safe and secure relationships, we become “emotionally isolated.” Emotional isolation is devastating to the human nervous system; it is inherently traumatizing. Being disconnected (personally and professionally) from others takes a severe mental, emotional, and even physical toll.

Attachment Theory holds critical answers to human vulnerability throughout our lives. With its primary goals of protection and security, whether at home or at the office, seeking and maintaining contact with a secure relationship, “is viewed as the primary motivating principle in human beings and an innate survival mechanism.” Threats - real or perceived - activate the attachment system, which drives one towards a protective figure such as a boss, leader, or parent. Seeking reassurance, clarity, direction, and protection, safe attachments help individuals cope with threats and maintain focus. Once a threat is mitigated, the individual can return to the task as hand. If the threat isn’t mitigated, the individual remains pre-occupied, loses focus, clarity, and creativity, and stops taking appropriate risks (will show less initiative).

Research in adult attachment in the workplace indicates that employees will use their relationship with a group as a safe haven (a source of support and comfort) and as a secure foundation for growth and exploration. This process is enhanced by the cohesiveness of the group, which increases an employee's ability to learn and improves their team performance. These conditions, when offered in consistent and predictable ways, allows employees to thrive. The connections we make at work, especially with our leaders, can provide a secure foundation and a safe haven that enhances an employee's ability to function closer to their full capacity.

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