A Study of Cynicism and Organisational Disengagement in the Workplace

Gareth John Snowden Simpson (2011). A Study of Cynicism and Organisational Disengagement in the Workplace PhD Thesis, UQ Business School, The University of Queensland.

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Author Gareth John Snowden Simpson
Thesis Title A Study of Cynicism and Organisational Disengagement in the Workplace
School, Centre or Institute UQ Business School
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-08
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Amanda Roan
Dr Neil Paulsen
Total pages 238
Total black and white pages 238
Language eng
Subjects 150311 Organisational Behaviour
170107 Industrial and Organisational Psychology
Abstract/Summary Employee cynicism is now widely acknowledged to be a complex phenomenon that pervades many contemporary workplaces. Yet, while considerable research attention has been directed towards understanding the effects of cynicism on workplace outcomes, there remains little consensus regarding the precise nature of cynicism and the role it performs in shaping individuals’ relationship with their organisation. While some conceptual research acknowledges that cynicism is capable of existing as a ‘malignant’ or a ‘benign’ force in organisations, capable of affecting some individuals and the organisations in which they work more or less negatively than others, few empirical explanations have been provided to account for this duality. Cynicism research as a whole has been criticised for its lack of theoretical development, despite attempts by researchers from diverse backgrounds to fit the construct into various theoretical frameworks. However, in competition with the majority of mainstream research applications of cynicism, one conceptualisation of cynicism has emerged which characterises it as a rational defence strategy fostering the disengagement of the individual from the organisation. This element of organisational disengagement (OD), proposed to lie at the heart of employee cynicism, has been suggested to be a driving force behind how individuals interact with their organisations. Organisational disengagement is a conceptual space that has not been adequately addressed by existing research. I argue that extending cynicism research by understanding and investigating the disengagement it is capable of engendering between employees and their organisations provides an intuitive way to understand the link between cynicism and workplace outcomes. Further, better understanding the nature and extent of the organisational disengagement created by employee cynicism provides a means through which to explain how cynicism affects different individuals and organisations differently. The aim of this research is to explore and operationalise the concept of organisational disengagement in a contemporary organisational context. In this thesis, I focus on exploring organisational disengagement in the context of employee cynicism, which has been proposed by a small group of researchers to a major force behind the psychological separation of the individual from their organisation. I propose that organisational disengagement performs an important role in determining how workplace defences such as employee cynicism manifest as organisational outcomes. Moreover, I propose that organisational disengagement itself may act as a more powerful predictor of attitudes and behaviours at work than employee cynicism and other organisational phenomena. To these ends, I conducted three studies. Study 1 was conducted in order to investigate whether organisational disengagement is experienced by employees facing undesirable or negative events at work, and, further, to document the nature and extent of this disengagement from the organisation. Phenomenological interviews were conducted on a sample of 15 working individuals within a large Australian university. Findings from the study suggested that organisational disengagement is, indeed, experienced by individuals — cynical or otherwise. Participants reported that their disengagement was commonly experienced in four distinct ways: as cognitive withdrawal (OD-CW), behavioural withdrawal (OD-BW), emotional divestment (OD-ED), and as a separation of the self-concept from the organisation (OD-SS). These dimensions of organisational disengagement were not mutually exclusive; rather, participants reported experiencing multiple dimensions simultaneously, suggesting that the four dimensions uncovered in this study might be used to create a profile of an individual’s organisational disengagement, which may account for individual differences in the outcomes of change. In Study 2, I developed and validated scales to measure each of the four OD dimensions using established scale development procedures and multiple samples. Study 3 was designed to assess the performance of the four OD measures, and of an overall, latent OD variable in explaining attitudinal and behavioural workplace outcomes, alone and in conjunction with employee cynicism. Self-report questionnaires were used to collect data from a sample of working individuals from a diverse range of organisations and industries. Structural equation modelling techniques were used to test the hypothesised relationships between cynicism, OD, and sets of attitudinal and behavioural outcomes. Results suggested that OD was associated with organisational commitment and job satisfaction, partially mediating the effects of cynicism. OD was also found to be negatively related with three organisational citizenship behaviours, again mediating the effects of cynicism on these outcomes. Overall, the findings from this body of research provide support for the organisational disengagement construct being worthy of empirical investigation. Further, they provide evidence of the ability of OD to profile the disengagement produced by defence strategies including cynicism, emplaced by individuals in order to control their interaction with the organisation at which they work. By operationalising organisational disengagement, this thesis makes a contribution to the theoretical understanding of employee cynicism and organisational disengagement, and, in applied settings, allows for organisations to understand and monitor the extent to which individuals are psychologically connected to their organisation.
Keyword employee cynicism
organisational disengagement
organisational change
Additional Notes Pages to be printed landscape: 113, 124, 125, 132, 138, 139, 194, 195, 196, 197, 203, 204, 205, 206.

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Created: Tue, 01 May 2012, 14:15:23 EST by Mr Gareth Simpson on behalf of Library - Information Access Service