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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The Startup podcast that tracks the real-time evolution of a podcast business, Gimlet Media, aired an episode titled, Burnout.

The episode comprised mostly interviews held together with a narrative that got across some of the core qualities of burnout.

The beginning point was the exhaustion arising from long hours of intense work. A new business bridges the gap between its limited resources and its aspirations by over-extending its people. The business may lack the money to hire who it needs or the right talent may take a long time to find.

But people can sustain extraordinary effort when they believe in what they’re doing and when they have hope for a rewarding, sustainable future.

The podcast show those beliefs becoming shaky. Producers expressed concerns about maintaining high quality production when working through their exhaustion. They felt intimidated by staffing reduction that would arise from a kay person’s looming paternity leave. Their hopes diminished when they heard their boss be dismissive of their request for enlisting additional editorial expertise.

These conversations got across that in addition to exhaustion, the experience of burnout includes losing the capacity for intense creative involvement and losing confidence in the quality or importance of the work.

The power of the episode comes from the depth it gives to the burnout experience. It goes beyond the usual narrative of exhaustion through overwork. While exhaustion creates the opportunity for burnout, the definitive parts of the syndrome are the diminished engagement and discouragement that occurs when hopes diminish.

The episode also pointed towards action that could make a difference through listening.

More on that later.


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