Emotional Ties to Jobs and Bosses

In a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, an article addressed the subject of Emotional Transference in boss-employee relationships. While that article addressed it primarily from the manager's perspective, I'd like to take a look at this important issue from the employee and job seeker's perspective.

Emotional Transference is an idea, first suggested by psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, that people transfer emotions they felt for other people to current relationships. According to the theory, this often happens in situations where the relationship structure is similar to a prior relationship, often to a relationship from early childhood such as with a mother or father. Freud noticed patients falling in love with him (their psychiatrist). Numerous studies have also shown that transference happens in boss-employee relationships. It's easy to see how: a boss has some similar characteristics to a parent, such as being a provider, point out mistakes, and giving rewards when achievements are made.

However, as the HBR article argued, on the whole, transference is not a good thing. While it does feel good to be reminded of the love we felt from our parents as young children, it is a mistake to feel that a boss would care for us in the same way. Having this kind of expectation is really a recipe for relationship failure. The unfortunate thing is many bosses are subconsciously aware of this effect and try to use it to manipulate their employees. Some downsides to emotional transference include:
- Reacting emotionally to situations where you should react based on business circumstances. For example, if a boss criticizes your work in a way that reminds you of something a parent did that you didn't like, you could have an emotional reaction that is more about your feelings for your parent than a reaction based on the business situation at hand.
- Although many bosses are good people, it is important to recognize that their primary concern is making money for the company and they will not look out for you the same way your parents would. Emotional transference is one reason people end up staying in jobs longer than is good for their career. Don't expect your boss to tell you when you've outgrown a job and need to move on for the good of your career.

Transference doesn't happen only after you've been hired. People often attach excess meaning to interviews and to the interviewers themselves. Some people equate interviews with the emotions they felt when taking a test in school. Maybe getting a bad grade on a test would have resulted in a scolding from a parent. If you're nervous before going on an interview, stop for a minute and ask yourself what thoughts and concerns you have. If you write them down on paper, there's a good chance you'll see many of the concerns are not rational.

Being aware of the emotions you have and the reasons for them can help you to be both a better employee and a better job candidate. Everyone likes a positive working environment. A work environment where people treat each other with respect and are warm and friendly with each other is great for everyone. But watch out for situations where you attach excess emotional meaning or expectations to a boss or to a group of people. If you subconsciously expect to receive love and unconditional acceptance from people who are not in a position to provide that, it can be detrimental to your career.

Not only can it be damaging in the ways mentioned above at the time it happens, but it can cause you to look for that same kind of emotional "fix" in future positions. Imagine if you interview with a company wondering if that company and/or that boss would love you as your parents did. Granted, no one thinks this on a conscious level, but even if it is happening subconsciously, it has the potential to make you really nervous and be generally distracting.

Taking a serious assessment of your emotional ties to work, bosses and employers can be difficult. But understanding if and how they are influencing you can make you a more powerful individual!

About the Author

Scott Brown is the author of the Job Search Handbook (http://www.JobSearchHandbook.com). As editor of the HireSites.com weekly newsletter on job searching, Scott has written many articles on the subject. He wrote the Job Search Handbook to provide job seekers with a complete yet easy to use guide to finding a job effectively.