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The dangers of attachment style that lead to burnout

Feeling burned out at work became our reality. If you are experiencing this right now, you are not alone. A recent estimate shows that a third of workers go through burnout right now (Gallup data released in 2022).

According to WHO “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. How do you spot that you have burnout? Here are some common symptoms:

  • Physical and mental exhaustion (low energy, feeling overwhelmed, etc.)

  • Cynicism towards the employer and the job itself

  • Professional inefficacy (declining job performance, feeling that what you do is pointless etc.)

World-renowned occupational burnout researcher, Christina Maslach, highlights many factors contributing to the syndrome and how to improve burnout in six areas - workload, control, reward, community, fairness and values. She additionally highlighted the importance of improving the relationship we have with work. It might surprise many to learn that the way we form relationships with work comes from our early childhood experiences.

Personality traits

One of the biggest factors in the way our personality is fostered is through the emotional attachment that we experience as children. We can distinguish secure and insecure attachment styles that impact every relationship we form throughout our lifetime. It also predicts how we regulate emotions, cope with stressful situations and respond when faced with threats of losing an important attachment object.

The attachment theory was proposed by John Bowlby - a British psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst. According to this theory, there are four types of attachment styles:

  • secure

  • avoidant

  • anxious

  • disorganised

Avoidant, anxious, and disorganised are thought to be insecure attachment styles.

Attachment style at work

Insecurely attached individuals often display perfectionism, emotional lability and workaholism. Additionally, these people carry a high level of fear of rejection and poor performance, while being more over-involved. They continually feel less important and less valued at work. Many times they also avoid social contact.

In the contrast, securely attached individuals have typically higher satisfaction and appreciate their work more. They tend to worry less about relationships at work. They report experiencing less stress and/or coping with it more successfully while creating a better work-life balance. They know how to seek help when they need it.


There are solutions to insecure attachment styles. By participating in long-term therapy, an insecure attachment can be reduced and a secure attachment increased. Other helpful forms of development that help in creating secure attachment include training, coaching and counselling. These foster new perspectives and help in building strategies for operating in difficult situations at work much better.

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