A study recently published in the journal Human Relations revealed that the way your parents treated you as an infant — whether they let you "cry it out" or rushed to comfort you when you were in distress — influences your workplace behavior and relationships today.
Over time, babies learn to view parents that come to their rescue as a source of support, while those who are left to cry it out tend not to see parents as sources of support, the research said. The researchers found that individuals transfer this pattern of thinking into the workplace when they grow up.
Those people who didn't view parents as a source of support are categorized as either having anxious or avoidant attachment, the research said. Peter Harms, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor at the University of Alabama, said anxiously attached people genuinely want to be loved, but they are nervous that the important people in their lives won't return their affection.
"So, they overreact any time they think their relationships are threatened," Harms said in a statement. "They use guilt and extreme emotional displays so that others will stay near and reassure" them.
On the other hand, avoidant people prefer to just be left alone, because they don't want to love you and don't need you to love them, Harms said. [See Related Story: The Childhood Age That Predicts Future Success]
"You won't find these people weeping over broken relationships," he said.
The study's authors discovered that bosses matter less to employees who were supported as babies and to those with avoidant attachment styles.
"Secure individuals have a long history of caring relationships, so they have other people who they can fall back on," Harms said. "And avoidant individuals just simply don't care."
Anxiously attached people are affected the most by the type of boss they have. The study's authors found that when "anxious" employees work for supportive leaders, they have no problems. However, when they work for distant, unsupportive bosses, they have higher levels of stress and lower levels of performance.
"They felt threatened," Harms said. "Their deep-seated anxieties leak out, and it starts to preoccupy them in an unhealthy way."
Even though these avoidant employees didn't feel supported as babies, they reported low levels of stress, but also weren't as willing to help co-workers.
"Good boss, bad boss. Whatever," Harm said. "They just don't care. They just want to do their job and go home."
The researchers said they believe employees are better off if they get high levels of parental support as infants and toddlers. However, the way managers lead can make a difference even when people come into the workplace with insecurities, the researchers added.
"Our research shows that a mother or father figure later in life can provide that needed love and support, even in the context of the workplace," Harms said.
However, the researchers note that bosses don't want to coddle their employees forever.
"You can provide attention and support early, but the sign of a mature relationship is that you trust one another to the point where managers can trust their subordinates to let them be autonomous, and subordinates can act without seeking permission," Harms said. "In other words, you graduate and move out of the house."
The study was co-authored by Yuntao Bai, an assistant professor at Xiamen University in China, and Guohong Helen Han, an associate professor at Youngstown State University in Ohio.