Text Size Default Text SizeDefault Text Size Large Text SizeLarge Text Size Largest Text SizeLargest Text Size Print Print this Page

2014 News Releases

Harm by cynical employees greater than the good by positive ones, Longwood professor finds

January 7, 2014

George Banks
Dr. George Banks

There may be times when "the good outweighs the bad," but apparently not when it comes to businesses and other organizations, says a Longwood University business professor.

"If I’m a cynical person, it will hurt my job performance, but if I’m a trusting person, it won’t help my job performance as much," said Dr. George Banks, who specializes in human resources and organizational behavior. "The bad can have more harmful effects than the good can have beneficial effects.

Banks and several coauthors examined how individual differences, including attitudes, are related to organizational cynicism, as well as how organizational cynicism is related to job performance, job satisfaction and employee turnover. The study, which analyzed 9,186 people from 34 samples conducted from 1998-2011, defined organizational cynicism as a negative attitude toward one’s organization and a belief that the organization lacks integrity.

"We found that bad is stronger than good in terms of job performance and job satisfaction," said Banks. "Cynical employees tend to be less motivated, grumpy with customers, maybe rude to their boss. They’re bitter employees who don’t want to be there," said Banks, who will continue to conduct research on employee cynicism.

"We did not test a link between cynicism and firm financial performance, but it is a safe assumption that if cynicism adversely affects job performance and turnover, it would ultimately affect firm financial performance," he added.

Steps that organizations can take to decrease employee cynicism include supportive environments, fairness and low levels of organizational politics and of what it calls "psychological contract violation," the study says.

The study is part of research by Banks and several other professors into whether a cynical attitude is more harmful for an organization than a trusting attitude is helpful, which Banks called the "good vs. bad" debate. Results were in line with previous research that suggests bad is stronger than good, he said.

"A classic example of this is that if your supervisor gives you a compliment, it helps a little, but if your supervisor says something critical, that means more than the praise—you’d have to be complimented three times to make up for it. Research shows this is true in love relationships as well."

Banks’ study also found that, despite anecdotal evidence that younger employees tend to be more cynical than others, this is not the case. Also somewhat surprisingly, employees who have been on the job longer likewise are not much more cynical than coworkers with less tenure, said Banks. There also is no correlation between educational level and gender—two other variables that were factored in—and organizational cynicism.

Titled "Antecedents and consequences of employee organizational cynicism: A meta-analysis," the study was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in April 2013 in Houston. It has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.

Co-authors are Dr. In-Sue Oh of Temple University, Dan Chiaburu and Laura Lomeli of Texas A&M, and Ann Chunyan Peng of Michigan State.