Cynicism is rampant in the corporate world. Especially, cynicism at managerial levels spreads across the whole organisation and brings it down in no time.

Cynics can be real annoyance at the workplace. Their belief that every action of the other individual is driven by self-interest restricts their growth along with that of their teams and organisations. They fail at utilising opportunities because their attitude prevents from trusting others.

They are obstacles in decision-making processes and their workplace relationships are a mess. Their commitment, motivation and engagement levels are low. They are roadblocks in the way of bringing in change.

Cynicism in employees is usually a consequence of mistakes by the management. John Wanous, a professor of management and human resources at Ohio State University says that ineffective managers create cynical employees. He cites the following three kinds of experiences as the causes for cynicism in employees:

• Changes the management failed to implement

• Bad leadership style of one’s reporting manager

• Not valuing employee inputs in workplace decisions

Wanous says that managers believe it is a few rotten apples (employees with bad attitudes) that cause cynicism. His research data however indicates that, “it is management that spoiled the fruit.” His study also showed that highly cynical employees are more likely to file grievances against the company and less likely to believe that the management would reward their performances. Arnon Reichers, associate professor at OSU and co-author of the study adds, “If there is a history of failed initiatives, employees may become so cynical that future attempts are essentially doomed to failure.” The worst part of dealing with cynics is that they are resistant to the regular motivational exercises and counselling.

However, with special attention and right strategy, a more open and optimistic attitude can be induced in them. Or at least their cynicism can be utilised constructively. Cynics can get frustrated and leave their jobs when forced to change. So to deal with them, the right way is to address the cause of their cynicism.

Organisations launch new policies and projects with great fanfare but do not tell the employees whether they are successful. And employees assume them to be failures. So, managers should popularise successful implementation of a change, project or policy, however trivial it is and however long the process had taken. Similar is the case with failures.

“When plans fail, management needs to give credible and verifiable reasons for the failure to employees,” Wanous said. “If management made a mistake, then say so.”

Appreciation by right people, at right time, in the right way can reduce cynicism to a great extent. Attainment of every significant milestone should be rewarded and celebrated appropriately.

Empowering employees, providing them with sufficient information to carry out their duties, letting them take decisions and valuing their inputs in the decision making process gives the employees confidence required to take charge of their responsibilities and careers.

This increases productivity and employees develop the trust that their organisation cares for their career and growth. Understanding the perspectives of employees is crucial in devising plans and policies. Knowledge about what is happening across the company, prepares employees for impending changes. It keeps them more informed and capable of taking appropriate decisions in times of crisis. This also prevents them from making assumptions and spreading rumours. The OSU study found that despite the policies of the company, efforts of managers to improve things in their department could gain positive results.

This is by doing their part of the job sincerely and letting the employees know it. “They’re still willing on an individual level to make changes on things they can control.”

Reichers says. So managers can begin with appreciating individual accomplishments in their teams and departments.

Meghan Knierim-Fatras, assistant editor at Alexander Hamilton Institute’s Soapbox says that cynicism can actually help the organisation. Cynics help us to see things in different ways, which leads to new ideas.They challenge traditional procedures and systems, which leads to innovation. Cynics can also give an insight to what can be on the minds of other less vocal employees.Cynicism is often a reflection of management’s failure, which it finds hard to admit.

But to mould employees into enthusiastic, efficient and committed workforce, organisations have to identify their mistakes and correct them.

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