Attachment

15 Reasons Why You Hate (or Love) Your Job

New research shows the surprising influences on how you feel about your job.

Posted Aug 21, 2018

CREATISTA/Shutterstock
Source: CREATISTA/Shutterstock

You’ve just gotten home from work, and already you’re dreading having to return the next morning. Although you don’t mind your job particularly, or even the people you work with, there’s just something about the place that makes you anxious and unhappy. According to new research on attachment theory, your feelings about your workplace can be explained quite readily. Fabrizio Scrima (2018), of the University of Rouen (France), proposes that attachment theory provides a new angle for understanding the feelings that you have about the place where you work. These feelings, in turn, can affect the way you feel about your job, because the place where you work and the job itself are inextricably linked for the majority of people.

To understand this framework, first imagine that you are in an environment that you really like. You have positive associations with the room, the furnishings, and the views out of the window. When you walk in, you immediately feel comforted and relaxed. Now imagine you’re at a place at which something bad has happened to you, such as the restaurant you were in when a partner broke up with you. It’s likely that you’ll never go to that restaurant again. However, if it’s your workplace where something bad is happening, such as a coworker being consistently rude to you, you can’t avoid it so readily.

According to Scrima, “place attachment” incorporates three components—affective (feelings), cognitive (thoughts), and behavioral (searching for or avoiding). Workplace attachment involves, then, how you feel about the office or building in which you work, those thoughts you have about whether bad things will happen to you, and your desire to get there early and leave late. Even your desire to spend time in the break room or cafeteria could be enough to get you to want to go and stay there. Perhaps you look forward, in the evening, to the conversations you’re going to have with your work buddies about the latest Netflix series. Even that could be enough to motivate you to want to avoid dilly-dallying in the morning and get yourself to the office.

Scrima notes that, indeed, workplace attachment becomes its own “Internal Working Model” that most relationship researchers believe characterizes your attachment to the important people in your life. In the case of the workplace, this becomes the representation you have, in your mind, of your relationship to your workplace, and your own identity within that workplace. You might take pride when you see the front of your building, the logo it uses to brand itself, or even the writing on the door as you enter your particular desk, office, or other workspace (such as a lab, a garage, or a kitchen). If you work for a retail store or chain, perhaps you hold your head a little bit higher because you know you are a part of that organization.

According to Scrima, as logical as this all can be, there is relatively little research on workplace attachment, although attachment theory has been applied extensively to the idea of “place” attachment. Further, no studies have examined the quality of workplace attachment as compared to intensity. In Scrima’s model, workplace attachment style (quality) can fall into one of four categories based on the dimensions of “thoughts of self” and “thoughts of place":

  • In secure place attachment, you feel positively about yourself and about the place where you work.
  • In preoccupied place attachment, you have negative thoughts about yourself, even though you feel positively about the place (i.e. you feel you don’t belong there).
  • In dismissive place attachment, you have positive thoughts about yourself but are disparaging toward your workplace environment.
  • In fearful/disorganized place attachment, you feel negatively about both yourself and the place where you work.

In a two-phase study, Scrima first developed a workplace attachment measure and then tested the measure through an additional validation step. The first study included 342 Italian employees working in public (56%) and private (44%) organizations; two-thirds of the participants were men and their ages ranged from 20 to 62 (mean 38 years old). The validational study included 226 Italian workers with a similar age range, gender distribution, and comparable division between public and private sectors. The original workplace attachment scale had 33 items, of which 18 then became eliminated after failing to meet adequate statistical criteria. The final scale, then, has 15 items that fall into three of the attachment style categories; the fourth (fearful/disorganized) did not make the cut.

Looking now at the items themselves, see how you would rate on each of them using a 5-point “totally disagree” to “totally agree” scale:

Dismissive workplace attachment:

  1. In my organization, I prefer to avoid certain places, even if that interferes with my work.
  2. Nothing would make me stay at my workplace longer than necessary.
  3. I dread going back to my workplace after a holiday.
  4. I prefer not to go to certain places in my organization.
  5. I tend to put off going to my workplace.

Secure workplace attachment:

  1. I’m attached to my workplace.
  2. I would find it very difficult to leave my workplace for good.
  3. My workplace is like me.
  4. I enjoy the time I spend in my workplace.
  5. I wouldn’t enjoy working in another place as much.

Preoccupied workplace attachment:

  1. I often feel anxious in my workplace.
  2. Just thinking about my workplace makes me feel anxious.
  3. I find it difficult to feel at ease at my workplace.
  4. Some places in my organization bring back bad memories.
  5. I sometimes feel oppressed by my workplace.

The average on the 5-point scale for each item was highest for Item 2 on the Dismissive scale, indicating that people are unlikely to want to stay at their workplace longer than they have to, which is perhaps not surprising. Item 5 on that scale had the lowest score, signifying that most people don’t put off going to work. Again, this might not be surprising, because if you want your paycheck, you better show up on time.

That the fourth attachment style of fearful/disorganized did not manifest itself suggests that employees did not particularly identify with a style that would involve negative feelings toward both themselves and their workplaces. As the author suggests, this was because “either the fact that none of the items enabled this factor to be identified, or to the fact that the fearful attachment style is often associated with a clinical population of people with severe psychopathological disorders.”

An important implication of the study’s findings, according to Scrima, is that companies could improve workers' attitudes, and hence their tendency to stay in the organization and be productive, by helping insecure employees become more secure. From your own point of view, making explicit your workplace attachment could help you wrestle with the ambivalent feelings you might have about your job based on the physical environment in which it takes place. If there’s a lack of fit between your identity and your internal image of your company, your productivity and perhaps your mental health will begin to suffer. You might also decide to leave a job because of the discomfort you feel in your workplace, even though you don’t mind the actual tasks required of you.

Another takeaway from this study might apply to you if you aren’t involved in paid employment but are active in your community, or even if you are required by family obligations to visit relatives who are in hospitals, nursing homes or assisted living. You might feel uncomfortable in these settings because of your negative associations toward places where people are ill or unable to care for themselves. By separating your attachment to the physical environment from your concern and care for the people in those environments, you might be better prepared to visit them more often. It might even help if you find something positive to associate with the environment, even if it’s just the color of the decorations or the presence of flowers and plants.

To sum up, fulfillment at work and other places where you spend your time can come from many sources. Clarifying how you feel about those places can help you identify more positively with them and allow you to become more fulfilled.

LinkedIn Image Credit: Zephyr_p/Shutterstock

References

Scrima, F. (2018). The psychometric properties of the workplace attachment style questionnaire. Current Psychology: A Journal For Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues, doi:10.1007/s12144-018-9928-1