Published: 24/03/2005, Volume II5, No. 5947 Page 36

How you feel about work might be down to your early childhood experiences, according to a new theory expressed in a recent paper in Leadership Quarterly.

The idea is that your relationship with your parents as a young child influences forever onwards your relationship with work itself. The theory, as propounded by Tiffany Keller of Baldwin-Wallace College in the US, is that you can divide all of us into three different groups.

First, consistent parental responsiveness is associated with a secure attachment style. Secure children mature into adults who expect partners to be trustworthy and responsive and perceive themselves as worthy of love. Secure adults have relatively high self-esteem.

Second, the anxious-ambivalent style results from inconsistent care-giver responsiveness. Anxious-ambivalent adults are characterised as preoccupied with attachment and become obsessed with romantic partners. They have relatively low self-esteem.

Finally, the avoidant style is associated with consistent care-giver unavailability and non-responsiveness.

Avoidant adults are characterised as relatively uninvested in romantic relationships, preferring to work alone.

Thus, what began as coping strategies to deal with a care-giver who failed to provide comfort or soothe distress becomes defensive self-reliance and cool, even hostile, relations with peers.

Individuals approach their work in a manner consistent with their attachment styles. For example, secure individuals do not use work to satisfy unmet needs for love, (as do anxiousambivalents) nor do they use work to avoid social interaction (as do avoidants). Thus, the evidence suggests that in a variety of settings attachment influences expectations, motives, feelings, and actions toward others.

Some psychologists believe that attachment behaviour characterises human beings from the cradle to the grave. If that is the case, then all managers should be aware of attachment theory and could use it effectively in understanding employees and their reaction to work.

Dr Raj Persaud is consultant psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley trust and Gresham professor for public understanding of psychiatry.