Table of Contents
2. Discussion of the Different Views
2.1 Dean, Brandes and Dharwadkar Three Dimensional Framework
2.2 Employee Cynicism by Andersson
3. The Relation between Organizational Structure and Organizational Cynicism
4. What to do?
Cynicism has become a common state of mind in today’s society. A cynic is defined by the Oxford Learner’s dictionary as “a person who believes that people do not do things for good, sincere or noble reasons” (Oxford Learner’s, 1989). The roots of cynicism lead back to the ancient Greeks, where cynicism was a school of thought and way of life. In the early times, cynics were accepted as progressive and serious and took part in philosophical debates. When philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle became more famous and increased their followers’ base, the cynics ceased to exist as a school of thought. A short revival took place during the third century in Rome, showing that cynicism seems to thrive whenever corruption is an issue. The word cynicism itself might have originated from the Greek expression for dog, kyon, which is why cynics were frequently called the disciples of the dog. The most famous Greek cynic was Diogenes of Sinope, a student of Antisthenes. He became famous for carrying a light around during bright daylight, in order to find one honest man (Dean, Brandes and Dharwadkar, 1998). This act very well describes the way cynics think: A cynic is overly critical to any type of organization, believing that the individual is the natural unit of human life and therefore expecting others to behave in their self interest and opposing any institution, such as churches or even the government. Today, cynicism is less of a philosophical issue but more a term associated with negative meanings and a way to mock the ones in power through sarcasm. Cynicism should not be confused with scepticism, though, which is a form of healthy, critical thinking, while cynics are generally in doubt of anything that humans claim to do. The big difference is that sceptics are open to change, while cynics aren’t. One might expect too much cynicism to cause an organization to malfunction. This makes the following question an important issue for organizational design: How are the structures of today’s organizations related to organizational cynicism and what can organizations do to cope with it?
In answering this broad problem statement, the paper will deal with the following sub questions:
- How is organizational cynicism defined?
- What causes and effects does organizational cynicism have according to different researchers?
- How is organizational cynicism related to organizational design and the structures proposed by Mintzberg?
- Can organizational design be used to reduce organizational cynicism?
This paper will first examine the different views of organizational cynicism, offered by Dean, Brandes and Dharwadkar and Andersson. Clear definitions will be provided and a comparison between the opposing views will be conducted. Furthermore, the causes and effects of organizational cynicism according to these authors will be explained. The second part of the paper deals with relating the different organizational structures proposed by Mintzberg to cynicism. The common types of organizations, and how they are hindered by cynicism will be discussed. After this discussion, the paper will attempt at finding possible solutions for today’s organizations to cope with the issue. The main question here will be in what way organizational design can be used to influence employee cynicism. Finally, the conclusion will answer the problem statement and give hints at further research.
2. Discussion of the Different Views
2.1 Dean, Brandes and Dharwadkar’s Three Dimensional Framework
Organizational Cynicism as defined by Dean, Brandes and Dharwadkar in 1998 is “… a negative attitude toward one’s employing organization, comprising three dimensions: (1) a belief that the organization lacks integrity; (2) negative affect toward the organization; and (3) tendencies to disparaging and critical behaviours toward the organization that are consistent with these beliefs and affect”. The new conceptualisation of organizational cynicism by Dean et al. therefore consists of three main components: beliefs, affect and behaviour.
Belief relates to the notion that the cynics believe their employing organization lacks integrity. Integrity is viewed as a way of dealing with any issues fair, honest, upright and morally sound. This belief is most likely triggered by experience. In this case, one could relate to the Shell crisis in Nigeria, where the company acted ruthless towards the inhabitants of Nigeria and was facing huge criticism from the all kinds of sources. A Shell employee will always remember that his employer will behave this way if the profits justify it. The employees at cigarette giants, such as Philip Morris are in the same situation. They know that nicotine addicts people to cigarettes, yet they will always deny this in public in order to save their jobs. This behaviour itself can give rise to cynicism among the public towards these people, since they behave the same way as their employing company does. The so-called “whistleblowers”, people who tell the public what is really going on, could then bring the whole organization to a collapse. Hence, cynics believe that their employer violates such values as honesty, fairness and sincerity.
Affect constitutes the emotional reactions to the organization towards which a certain attitude or belief has been formed. The affective part of cynicism is based upon nine key emotions, identified by Izard in 1977. Each emotion can take a mild and a strong form: interest-excitement, enjoyment-joy, surprise-startle, distress-anguish, anger-rage, disgust-revulsion, contempt-scorn, fear-terror and shame-humiliation (Dean et al, 1998). Organizational cynicism is therefore closely tied to a number of negative emotions towards one’s employer and makes the employee’s thoughts also felt by him. These feelings of affect make the employee experience his beliefs.
Behaviour represents the last dimension of Dean et al.’s framework, relating to actions that accompany cynical beliefs and affect. It becomes apparent as employees make pessimistic predictions about a company’s recently introduced quality improvement programme, roll their eyes during meetings or make use of sarcasm in order to express their low opinion of the company’s mission for example. Hence, behaviour is the component which makes the cynicism felt and experienced for others.