CSUN Researcher Finds Benefits of Emotional Bonds Between Managers and Employees

Sigalit Ronen portrait

Sigalit Ronen, a California State University, Northridge assistant professor of management, has worked with researchers around the world to study how emotional bonds impact employees’ job performance.

Sigalit Ronen’s research makes the business case for bosses who nurture emotional bonds with their employees.

Ronen, a California State University, Northridge assistant professor of management, has worked with researchers around the world to study how these emotional bonds impact employees’ job performance.

What she found: When people feel secure in their relationships with their managers, they become more creative and their performance increases.

Based on this research, Ronen has developed methods and tools to help managers foster a workplace that gets the most out of its employees. According to her findings, the cornerstones of effective leadership include promoting a workplace culture of inclusion and empathy, and being perceived as warm, caring and competent by your employees.

“Leading people without taking into consideration the human aspect can be a huge oversight,” she said. “So many managers and leaders make that mistake — they don’t stop to think about the relationships they form with their employees and how it can affect results at the business level.”

Ronen recently received the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics’ 2018-19 University Research Fellowship for her proposal, “Secure-Based Leadership: Development and Validation of a Theory-Based Measure,” which continues her study into the application of attachment theory, a well-known psychological theory, in the workplace.

Attachment theory, first established by psychologist John Bowlby in 1958, states that people are likely to develop and function well as adults if they have established strong and positive emotional bonds to at least one primary caregiver during childhood.

Ronen, working with other well-known researchers around the world, surveyed workers in the United States, Canada and Israel to study the idea that people who feel secure in work relationships are more successful in the workplace. The surveys sought to measure levels of performance, work engagement, trust in management and indicators of job satisfaction. Her current research compares leaders who provide what she calls secure-based leadership with other noted leadership styles, such as transformational leadership, transactional leadership, servant leadership and others.

Ronen became interested in the subject in 2004, shortly after completing her Ph.D. from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, Israel, when she discovered a study by Israeli psychologist Mario Mikulincer. She contacted Mikulincer, and they started exploring the application of attachment theory in the context of business organizations. They later published research linking attachment insecurity with job burnout, low levels of job satisfaction and other studies on manager-subordinate relationships. In another study, co-authored with David Zuroff from McGill University, Ronen found that people who feel securely attached to others are more likely to demonstrate leadership skills, perform well and get promoted in their jobs.

Ronen’s University Research Fellowship will provide the opportunity to focus on writing about her research work with hopes of publication during fall 2018, when she will be exempt from teaching. Each academic year, fellowships are awarded to faculty members, highlighting groundbreaking work conducted across all fields of study. Seven fellowships were awarded for 2018-19. The Research Fellows Program was created and is funded collaboratively by the Office of the Provost, CSUN’s colleges and the Delmar T. Oviatt Library.

“Sigalit Ronen’s research is an outstanding example of the impactful research being conducted by Nazarian College faculty,” said Chandra Subramaniam, dean of the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics. “This research provides profound benefits for millions of employees and the organizations that employ them throughout the world. The college is pleased to support her efforts to publish this research by awarding her the University Research Fellowship.”

One of the goals of Ronen’s research is to provide tips for managers on how to foster a sense of security among employees in their organization, which would increase employee performance and benefit everyone involved. Her research indicates that employees feel more secure when managers are available and responsive, when they develop and nurture employees by supporting them through challenging tasks that foster growth, and when they project the strength and wisdom to lead in a secure environment.

“Healthy relationships are the main contributor for well-being and growth,” Ronen said. “When people feel secure in their relationships with their managers, they look for more opportunities to contribute to their organizations and they feel empowered to do so. Everything starts there.”

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