The Connection Culture: Attachment and Engagement in the Workforce

We know that humans require bonding to survive and thrive. Abraham Maslow theorized that working together harmoniously is a basic human drive, a survival need. Additionally, John Bowlby, an English psychologist, believed that our emotional bonds are as necessary to our survival as food and water. Bowlby’s work focused on attachment theory, specifically on the study of how infants bond with their parents, what conditions need to be present for proper attachment to occur, and what happens when attachment doesn’t happen.

According to Bowlby, the attachment system in an infant alerts him to consider whether his mother (or attachment figure) is in his proximity, if he can get to her easily, and if she is tending to him. If the infant perceives these things to be true, then the child feels secure, confident, and loved. He feels connected and therefore likely to explore his surroundings, socialize with others, and take more risks. On the other hand if the child feels these conditions are not present, he experiences anxiety and is likely to disengage and experience despair and even depression.

When we are attached, we are connected and engaged. If we compare my explanation of infant parent attachment theory to the workplace, it becomes clear how a workforce that is connected to a company’s mission, product, or service, would be more productive, innovative, and happier. Too many of us either know someone or have personally been disconnected from work, and therefore felt depressed, anxious, and full of dread. When we consider these realities, our act of instilling connection is an act of kindness, because we show our colleagues and clients that we care about their basic human drive to connect. In sharing that need we become kin, because emotional connection is what we want too.

“Workforce engagement” is yet another one of the buzz terms of the business world, but it shouldn’t be reduced as such. Engagement makes or breaks a company. Workforce engagement has been defined as “the outcome organizations achieve when they connect employees both professionally and emotionally with the organization, the people in it, and the work they do.”

According to Gallup, disconnected and disengaged employees cost organizations productivity, innovation, and ultimately lots of money—approximately $250 to $300 million in the United States alone.9 In their book The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite, Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer looked at a number of businesses ranging from entrepreneurial startups to large, established organizations and found that people’s productivity and creativity surged when they experienced more positive emotions. Positive workplace interactions also improve employee health! Emma Seppala’s research led her to discover that employees who experience interpersonal connections in the workplace had a lower heart rate and blood pressure along with a stronger immune system. Adam Grant, author of Givers Take All: The Hidden Dimension of Corporate Culture, reports that Philip Podsakoff’s studies show “…frequency with which employees help one another predicts sales revenues in pharmaceutical units and retail stores; profits, costs, and customer service in banks, creativity in consulting and engineering firms, productivity in paper mills; and revenues, operating efficiency, customer satisfaction, and performance quality in restaurants.”

According to Gallup, companies that engage their employees and their customers experience a 240-percent increase in performance-related results. Disengaged employees cost the United States about $450 to $550 billion annually.

Positive social connections increase business success on all levels, so how can we create a connected culture to ensure we connect with our team members while connecting them to our mission, brand, and each other on a daily basis?

  1. Communicate to your employees what your company does for the world to make it a more positive place and let your employees understand their place in contributing to the company’s According to a Harvard Business Review study, 95 percent of employees do not understand how their daily actions add to the strategy planned by the executive team. As Suzy Welch says, leaders need to become Chief Meaning Officers. They must show employees how their work connects to the company’s mission and what they get out of it. A study found that when managers in a call center highlighted how the company’s products and services make a difference, employee productivity increased by 28 percent every shift!

Marie-Claire Ross, founder of Corporate Culture Creator, has seen great leaders take the time to really define their organization and to continually communicate that and keep it fresh. “They use stories, metaphors, and visual cues to help employees feel, hear, and see their future. Emotion matters in every type of business, and the more sensory interaction in the employee experience, the better.”

To emotionally connect your workforce you need to communicate the meaning behind the work to make team members feel stimulated and goal- oriented. If not connected with the meaning of their work, the attachment bond breaks down, and that means frustrated, confused, and insecure employees, which dwindles engagement and efficiency.

  1. Keep people Challenging work is important to employees. They want to feel as if they are growing through their work, not withering away. Providing challenging work pushes people to go higher and to want to do more. This translates into a strong worker who isn’t afraid to think outside the box, feel trusted, and inspired to innovate.
  2. Give people your 17 This is easier said than done, for sure. But does a person who is spewing out orders without even looking you in the eye motivate you to get the job done? What if you wanted to pitch an idea to the boss, but she kept looking at her emails and answering phone calls while you were talking? You might as well just give up. When people feel ignored, dismissed, or generally unimportant, they will not go the distance for you.
  3. Foster When people feel they have the leverage to solve problems, they feel connected to the company because they take ownership. When people are owners, they connect to the corporation because they don’t look at it any longer as a place they work at; it is no longer separate from them, because the work is theirs. Things also get done much more quickly when employees have decision making power.
  1. Be seen 18 Mingle in the break room, buy lunch on the first Friday of the month and eat together in the conference room, or show up for birthday wishes over cupcakes. Avoid becoming the enigmatic boss and enjoy being part of the team. Ask questions such as “How are you” and “Do you have plans over the weekend?” This kind of talk might sound small, but it reaps big rewards. You will notice people approaching you more easily and keeping the lines of communication open, which is a necessity for connection.