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Leadership Can Reduce Employee Cynicism, Increase Engagement

By Kevin Manne

Release Date: December 12, 2012

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Research by Paul Tesluk found that proactive leadership in the workplace can reduce employee cynicism toward change.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Management efforts to reduce cynicism and enhance employee empowerment can have a large impact on employee engagement, according to a study from the University at Buffalo School of Management.

The study, recently published in Organization Science, investigated officer attitudes and organizational climates at 14 state prisons and found that proactive leadership can reduce cynicism toward change for both individual employees and across an entire organization.

"In prisons, employees face an array of very real and challenging circumstances which can create commitment problems," explains study co-author Paul Tesluk, PhD, Donald S. Carmichael Professor of Organizational Behavior in the UB School of Management. "Past research has shown that there are extraordinarily high turnover rates of 50 percent in the first year of service and 38 percent overall."

Tesluk said the study's findings are useful to managers in a variety of organizational settings beyond prisons.

"Senior leaders should be aware of the potential development of a cynical culture in their organizations, which may amplify employees' negative attitudes toward change," says Tesluk. "By addressing the issue, management can foster employees who are more committed, leading to reduced turnover and disengagement."

Leaders can limit the development of these negative cultures by making sure that their words are backed by specific actions, such as regularly asking for and acting on employee feedback, or providing ways for employees to participate in organizational change efforts, according to the study.

"Employees who feel empowered in their jobs will feel confident in attempting new ways of performing their jobs, especially during change efforts, and thus be less likely to experience cynicism towards change in for-profit and public organizations alike," Tesluk says.

Tesluk collaborated on the study with Katherine DeCelles, PhD, assistant professor of organizational behavior and HR management at the University of Toronto; and Faye Taxman, PhD, director of the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence at George Mason University.

The UB School of Management is recognized for its emphasis on real-world learning, community and economic impact, and the global perspective of its faculty, students and alumni. The school has been ranked by Bloomberg Businessweek, the Financial Times, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report and The Wall Street Journal for the quality of its programs and the return on investment it provides its graduates. For more information about the UB School of Management, visit mgt.buffalo.edu.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Media Contact Information

Kevin Manne
Assistant Director of Communications
School of Management
Tel: 716-645-5238
kjmanne@buffalo.edu